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Can Marijuana Reform End Mass Incarceration?

August 12, 2016
While current marijuana enforcement is counterproductive in many respects, there is little evidence to indicate that it has been a substantial contributor to mass incarceration. Of the 1.5 million people in state or federal prisons, only about 40,000 are incarcerated for a marijuana offense.

Last week, the DEA decided to keep classifying marijuana as a Schedule I drug (categorized as having no medical potential and a high potential for abuse), disappointing advocates for drug policy reform, some who have argued that marijuana reform is the first step in ending mass incarceration. However, The Sentencing Project’s Executive Director Marc Mauer explains in The Hill, this appears to be wishful thinking.

There’s no question that the “war on marijuana” is overblown and unproductive. Since the early 1990s the focus of drug arrests nationally has shifted from a prior emphasis on cocaine and heroin to increasing marijuana arrests. By 2014 marijuana accounted for nearly half of the 1.5 million drug arrests nationally. But while this elevated level of marijuana enforcement is counterproductive in many respects, there is little evidence to indicate that it has been a substantial contributor to mass incarceration.

Still, Mauer writes, there are ways in which we could transform the national dialogue to make a more direct link between marijuana reform and ending mass incarceration. Read the full commentary in The Hill.

 
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