You are on page 1of 5

James Hahn

Mr. Rogers
U.S. Government
October 22, 2015
Marijuana Sentence Reduction Act 2015
Overcrowding in prisons is currently an issue that plagues both the pockets of taxpayers
and the minds of the lawmakers. It has been slowly increasing over the past few years, but has
finally reached a point where something has to be done and I have a proposition. However,
overcrowding is such a complex issue that it may be difficult to pinpoint how to reduce it most
effectively. I believe that one way to reduce overcrowding would be to reduce the sentences of
marijuana offenders as it is a less dangerous drug, which was propagated as dangerous because
of the War on Drugs which imposed long sentence times that contribute to the overall effect of
To understand why overcrowding became such a huge problem in our country we must
first analyze why the amount of offenders has increased over time. This increase in overcrowding
was a result of President Nixon who, in 1971, increased the power of the federal drug regulation
agencies and pushed anti-drug laws, creating the War on Drugs. The war was expanded during
the 1980s by many factors such as Nancy Raegans Just Say No campaign as well as DARE
(drug education program). Media portrayals of drug users also contributed significantly to the
drug scare. All these factors led to Congress passing laws that dictated extremely harsh
punishments for drug offenders which dramatically increased the prison population. The
number of people behind bars for nonviolent drug law offenses increased from 50,000 in 1980 to
over 400,000 by 1997(History of the Drug War). This correlates with the history of the War on

Drugs and supports my reasoning that the War on Drugs is one of the main reasons overcrowding
has become such a problem. Later the drug scare calmed down and the media lost interest, but
the policies remained and Americans today are still being arrested because of the laws of
yesterday. In 2009 alone, 1.66 million Americans were arrested on drug charges, more than
were arrested on assault or larceny charges. And 4 of 5 of those arrests were simply for
possession (Engel, Pamela). For example, In October 2010, Bernard Noble, a 45-year-old
trucker and father of seven with two previous nonviolent offenses, was stopped on a New
Orleans street with a small amount of marijuana in his pocket. His sentence: more than 13 years.
It just goes to show how absurd some of the sentences for this drug can be.
Today, one of the most significant contributors to overcrowding are drug offenders which
make up the majority in both state and federal prisons. Of the major drugs: marijuana, meth,
crack, cocaine, and heroine, marijuana makes up the majority of the drug crimes. Between
October 2012 and September 2013, 27.6 percent of drug offenders were locked up for crimes
related to marijuana, followed by powder cocaine (22.5 percent), methamphetamine (22.5
percent), crack cocaine (11.5 percent), heroin (8.8 percent) and other (7.2 percent), according to
the Sentencing Commission (Miles, Kathleen).. Because marijuana offenders make up the
majority of offenders a decrease in their sentence times would cause the greatest reduction in
overcrowding. Drug offenders also make up the majority of all prisoners. Over 50 percent of
inmates currently in federal prison are there for drug offenses, according to an infographic
recently released by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (Miles, Kathleen). Because drug offenders
make up such a large portion of prisons, reducing their sentences will have the greatest effect on
overcrowding. The bill will affect the most people possible. Not only does reducing marijuana

sentence have a big effect, but it also makes sense because marijuana is a less harmful drug than
the other major illegal drugs.
By comparison, marijuana is much less harmful when compared with the other major
illegal drugs: heroin, powdered cocaine, crack cocaine, and meth. Many say that marijuana is a
dangerous drug that deserves to be illegalized and should be associated with the other illegal
drugs, but I disagree. The results of a study show that marijuana is far from dangerous.
According to a 1988 ruling from the DEA, a marijuana user would have to consume 20,000 to
40,000 times the amount of THC in a joint to be at risk of a fatal dose (Alford, Justine). This
serves to show that marijuana is a harmless drug that doesnt deserve its illegal status or the
excessive punishments associated with it. Another commonly used argument is that marijuana
might not be as dangerous as the other illegal substances, but it isnt as safe as the legal drugs we
have currently. This is also false. Marijuana exhibits less toxicity then legal drugs such as
alcohol. According to the results, cannabis is around 114 times less deadly than alcohol and was
the only drug out of those examined to pose a low risk of death (Alford, Justine). Marijuana is
much less deadly than alcohol, which makes one wonder why it is illegal in the first place.
Historians have theorized that it was in part due to racial profiling and the media claiming that it
caused people to go insane. Finally, marijuana sentences should be made lower in order to reduce
overcrowding because overcrowding is harmful to the prisoners themselves.
Overcrowding causes damage to the prisoners and makes it more difficult to rehabilitate
them to normal life. One of the major problems is disease. Prisoners are kept in close contact and
there is little sanitation in their environment making prisons a breeding ground for infection.
Overcrowding only serves to exacerbate this issue. One in 4 inmates is infected with
tuberculosis (TB), compared with less than 1 per 10000 in the general population; hepatitis C

infects more than 41% of California inmates alone, compared with less than 2% of the states
general population (Restum, Zulficar Gregory). The statistics speak for themselves; prisoners
kept in close proximity are much more likely to get diseases that dont affect the majority of the
population. California Governor Jerry Brown reported, With large numbers of inmates housed
together in triple-bunks, there is an increased, substantial risk for transmission of infectious
illnesses (Governor Brown). In addition to the increased danger of disease, overcrowding also
takes a toll on the correctional officers who have to manage many more prisoners in a smaller
area. With so many inmates housed in large common areas, there is an increased, substantial
risk of violence, and greater difficulty controlling large inmate populations (Governor Brown).
Gang violence is common in prisons and by keeping inmates closer together violence inevitably
becomes more common. Finally, keeping lots of prisoners incarcerated cost lots of money. These
dollars come out of taxpayers pockets and reducing sentences would be a great way to kill two
birds with one stone. It costs an average of about $47,000 per year to incarcerate an inmate in
prison in California. Over two-thirds of these costs are for security and inmate health care
(Legislative Analyst). Not only is the average very high, but diseases as a result of overcrowding
will also increase the cost of prisoner healthcare and thusly the total cost. The costs have also
gone up significantly since the start of the drug war. In 1980 Pennsylvania's prison system cost
94-million dollars. In 2009 that number increased 19 times to a staggering 1-point-79 billion
dollars (Sprecher, Jeffery). The war on drugs has multiplied the cost of prisons by adding more
and more prisoners who dont deserve to be there.
In conclusion, marijuana sentences should be reduced significantly in order to reduce
overcrowding because marijuana illegalization is a result of the War on Drugs, it is less harmful
than other illegal drugs, it is the most commonly used illegal drug, and overcrowding makes

prisons more harmful for inmate and officer. Marijuana is not a drug that deserves the harsh
punishments that the Drug War implemented. The Drug War was a scare that left a lasting remark
on the laws that govern this country. Lets pass this bill and focus on now instead of having to
deal with the laws of the past.

Alford, Justine."New Study Finds Marijuana Safer Than Alcohol Or Tobacco." IFLScience., 24
Feb. 2015. Web. 23 Oct. 2015. <>.
Brown, Edmund "Office of Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. - Newsroom." Office of Governor
Edmund G. Brown Jr. - Newsroom. Web. 17 Sept. 2015. <
Engel, Pamela. "Watch How Quickly The War On Drugs Changed America's Prison Population."
Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 23 Apr. 2014. Web. 25 Sept. 2015.
Miles, Kathleen. "Just How Much The War On Drugs Impacts Our Overcrowded Prisons, In One
Chart." Justice Not, Web. 19 Oct. 2015. <>.
Restum, Zulficar Gregory. "Public Health Implications of Substandard Correctional Health
Care." American Journal of Public Health. American Journal of Public Health 2005, Web. 23
Oct. 2015 <>.
Sprecher, Jeffery. Justice or Just This? Berks County: Judge Jeffery Sprecher, 2011. Print.
"A Brief History of the Drug War." A Brief History of the Drug War. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.
Legislative Analyst's Office." Legislative Analyst's Office. Web. 17 Sept. 2015. Nov. 2015.