Addressing Marijuana Legalization

The United States should decriminalize the use and possession of marijuana. According to a survey released by Pew Research in January 2018, 61% of Americans support legalization. An October 2017, poll by Gallup has that number at 64%. Fox News released a poll in January 2018, which showed 59% support. And finally, 74% of individuals in NM CD3 support legalization. You would think with that level of support across the country, Washington could get something done. So why don’t they?

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) there are 183,478 inmates in federal prison. 46% of these inmates were convicted of drug offenses. The DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics released a report on drug offenders in federal prison in 2012. According to this research, about 12% of those convicted of drug offenses were convicted for marijuana trafficking and possession. The average prison sentence for marijuana possession was 7 years. The average annual cost for housing federal prisoners in 2015 was $31,978. For the 11,533 prisoners convicted of trafficking or possession of marijuana, the cost to taxpayers is $368,802,274 annually. Over the seven years, this cohort of prisoners is incarcerated, the total cost to taxpayers is $2.582 billion.

In 2016, the prison population in New Mexico, was 7,518. About 20% of the male prisoners, and 40% of female prisoners were convicted of drug charges. In 2014 and 2015 the number of men and women who were sentenced to prison for possession was greater than or equal to the number of individuals charged for drug trafficking. That’s nearly 600 people a year who were convicted for possession. Housing these prisoners costs New Mexico taxpayers $45,250 per person, per year. If only 10% of these prisoners are in for possession of marijuana, that’s more than $33 million a year to confine 750 people. Is this really how you want your money spent by the state?

I’d rather see that money stay in your bank account. There has never been one confirmed death from a marijuana overdose. Marijuana, hemp, and THC have many therapeutic and industrial uses. THC tincture, cannabinoids, and inhaled marijuana have been used in the treatment of some cancers, pain reduction, to help counter weight-loss from chemotherapy, HIV/AIDS, and many other maladies. Now it’s important to recognize marijuana is not the panacea to every condition, and this argument detracts from the truth. Like most things there are two sides to every story. Marijuana has addictive properties like any stimulant, depressant, or hallucinogen. It can cause damage to your brain, especially if used by minors during important brain development stages.

Criminalizing marijuana possession and consumption only benefits the state and federal penal system. The incarceration of people who have never been convicted of violent crimes, never damaged another individual’s property, and never harmed themselves, robs children of their mothers and fathers, and stigmatizes and penalizes these people for the rest of their life. These convictions prevent individuals from obtaining well-paying jobs when they are released increasing the chance of recidivism. The decriminalization of marijuana will free up law enforcement to concentrate on violent crime, keep hundreds of millions of dollars in the pockets of U.S. citizens, increase sales tax revenues, and stop tearing families apart for a victimless crime.

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