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What If Colorado Released All Marijuana Prisoners of War?

A guard walks along prison cells that contain marijuana offenders.


What If Colorado Released All Marijuana Prisoners of War?

Last month, got duped by a pipe dream, with their article “Colorado Will Release All Marijuana Prisoners and Expunge Their Records,” citing a similar article from the National Report, which describes itself as “news and political satire” buried deep within the website. Though the article turned out to be false, the idea itself is more than a delusion of grandeur, but rather a viable way for state and local governments around the nation to save more than a billion dollars.

About 750,000 people are arrested annually for marijuana offenses in the United States, and about 40,000 prisoners sit in federal or state prisons with a marijuana conviction, according to Rolling Stone, citing the book Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know.

It costs between $25,000 to $26,000 a year to house a prison inmate, according to the Center for Economic Policy and Research’s report “The High Budgetary Cost of Incarceration.”  Therefore, releasing marijuana prisoners of war from state and federal facilities could save states and the federal government between $1 billion to $1.04 billion.

And that’s just at the prison level, to say nothing of the burden legalization and decriminalization would ease from smaller infractions that are clogging up courts around the country. Since Colorado’s Amendment 64 went into effect in 2012, marijuana related cases dropped from an average of 11,000 the previous decade to 4,400 for 2013, according to the Huffington Post. A 2012 report from the Colorado Center on Law and Policy predicted the state to save $12 million in 2013, and as much as $40 million over time, to say nothing of how much Colorado saves now that cannabis is actually legal.

The U.S. currently has the highest civilian incarceration rate in the world, 753 per 100,000 people in 2008, more than three times higher than the nation with the next highest civilian incarceration rate, Poland at a rate of 224 prisoners per 100,000 people, according to the Center for Economic Policy and Research report.

The U.S. rate in 2008 was actually about 240 percent higher than it was in 1980. Actual crime rates only plays a small role in that increase, and only between 1980 and 1990, as violent crime actually decreased in the 1990s. If the prison population reflected the drop in violent crime rates, it would be about a third of what it actually was in 2008.

Nonviolent drug offenders make up 60 percent of that prison population in the US.

At least 25 people have been sentenced to life in prison for their involvement in the marijuana trade, according to the Huffington Post, citing the cannabis advocacy group the Human Solution. That includes Jeff Mizanskey, sentenced to life in prison without parole in Missouri for being with his friends who bought 13 pounds of marijuana in a sting operation, coupled with two previous pot charges involving about an ounce of weed each.

Though Colorado’s Gov. Hickenlooper said he “doesn’t have plans to support” legislation releasing Colorado prisoners caught in the lost Drug War, Colorado and the nation could save billions of dollars if such a policy was implemented nationally. All it takes is the turning of a key.

Should Colorado release all non-violent cannabis offenders? Tell us in the comments below!

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