Who’s Really in Prison for Marijuana?

prison bars

One of the common assertions about marijuana is that many of the people in jail or prison for drug related offenses were convicted, and are serving lengthy sentences, for “simple possession” of marijuana. This classification refers to offenses involving small amounts of marijuana (enough to classify as only being intended for the owner’s personal use), generally carried by non-violent, first-time offenders. While it is true that a conviction for simple possession can entail at least jail time, if not prison time, judges most often give first-time offenders more lenient punishments, which can include fines and community service. Many first-time marijuana offenders may not even be arrested, let alone punished.

Additionally, most people who are sent to prison for marijuana possession are also sent for at least one other, more serious or violent, crime. It is misleading to claim that people are serving years (or life) long sentences for simple possession, when most, if not all, of those people are serving those sentences for possession while also serving sentences for much more severe crimes. State and federal sentencing guidelines generally do not encourage incarceration for the possession of personal-use amounts of marijuana, let alone do they encourage (or even allow) sentences of more than a few months for it. Reports on the federal and state prison systems routinely show that of all the people imprisoned for simple possession, almost all of them are serving those short sentences while also serving harsher sentences for harsher crimes, such as drug trafficking, participation in drug trafficking organizations or other organized crime, or other violent crimes.

Listed below are links to several of these reports.