Consider the recent death of a teenager in jail who was arrested for marijuana possession after being stopped for not having lights while riding his bike at night, and take it as an example of myriad other tales of ruin that have come as a consequence of the war on drugs.
This is the first part of a many part series with the theme of how the marijuana movement represents more than just marijuana.
This quotation is taken from www.rightoncrime.com,
“Colorado, like other states, has a recidivism problem. Just over half of the men and women released from its prisons in fiscal year 2004 returned to the DOC within three years. Some 63.7 percent of inmates released from the DOC in fiscal year 2002 were rearrested within 3 years with 25.9 percent of all arrests were for violent crimes.”
The rate is shocking, but so is the percentage of non-violent offenders. Technical parole violations involving drug use are often a cause of returning to prison, undermining any progress a parolee may have won.
Recidivism in our penal system is not a symptom of criminals but rather a startling indication that when a citizen has been churned through the penal system often losing their home, their family, their job, and their reputation, they are likely to return to criminal behavior out of desperation, or are sent back to prison for a lifestyle choice that violates parole such as marijuana use.
Prisoners receive little in the way of rehabilitation as was the goal decades ago. Instead the Department of Corrections has since succumbed to budget cuts and overcrowding.
This in itself is an issue, but with so much of the incarcerated population convicted of minor drug offenses, the result is an escalation in criminal behavior from prosecuting what most consider to be a social issue rather than a criminal one, namely the use or possession of a mind altering substance.
We are, however unintentionally, creating criminals by leaving otherwise functional citizens devastated in the wake of zealous, war-on-drugs prosecution.
That’s certainly not to say that every person convicted of a drug related crime should be released, but is rather an observation about how targeting drug use as criminal behavior has resulted in unclear lines between criminals who pose a risk to society and ought to be incarcerated, and those who have been incarcerated for activities that bore no ill-will towards any person, nor sought to deprive, injure, or lie.
Some may consider substance abuse to include the use of such drugs as alcohol, caffeine, and narcotic, mind-altering pharmaceuticals, but most are not so conservative in their judgments.
These substances are treated with ambivalence and, especially in the case of pharmaceuticals, their use is acceptable when prescribed by a physician, though opiode pain-killers are abused by many.
Drug war mentality persists in casting a dark shadow of shame over marijuana use and the plea bargains taken by fearful defendants accused of cavorting with criminals have resulted in a boom of inmates.
The United States incarcerates a larger percentage of its population that any other country in the world, and the present political trend is towards the privatization of prisons.
In Pennsylvania, several judges were discovered to be handing out sentences that sent defendants to prisons in which they were invested. More prisoners equals more money and they were only caught because of an IRS audit.
While medical marijuana receives media attention and gains support nationwide, the exposure will force more moderate opinions among politicians.
The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol seeks to make it legal for adults to purchase and possess 1.5 ounces of marijuana in a regulated retail model.
Other activists disagree with any limits or restrictions such as those on grow size or location that expose citizens to any further marijuana prosecution.
Though the two perspectives may be at odds with one another, they share the common goal of increasing marijuana’s acceptance in our society and decreasing the number of people involved in criminal prosecution or criminal activity as a result of the extreme prejudice of our judicial system.
This is no small goal. Together they must overcome their differences to cooperate in influencing legislation that both works to make purchasing marijuana legal, and one that addresses the penal code and stops criminal prosecution of otherwise responsible adults who are in possession of illicit drugs.