By: Alana Gibson-Harbin
There are many people who currently believe marijuana should be decriminalized in order to stop the mass incarceration trend. According to some writers, the decriminalization of marijuana would impact incarceration rates dramatically. One way incarceration rates will be affected is there will be a significant decrease in violent crimes. This decline in crime will open more spaces in jails and prisons and allow police officers to focus on more serious crimes. With this opening of space in prisons, the mass incarceration problem in the United States will also be addressed.
There has been an intense debate on whether or not to decriminalize marijuana. The concerns with decriminalizing marijuana is the belief that this will cause a wave underage users. People who don’t support the legalization of marijuana have these concerns because they think without the harsh consequences that having marijuana has, that more people, underage people in particular, will be more willing to try it.
Senator Rand Paul is a politician that has served as a senate member representing Kentucky. Paul began practicing ophthalmology in 1993 in Bowling, Green Kentucky and began his own clinic in 2007. Paul has volunteered in his father’s campaigns. Paul started going into politics when he ran for senate in 2010. In April of 2015, Paul announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination in the 2016 US Presidential election.
Senator Paul describes himself as a constitutional conservative and is best known as a libertarian. Paul has been interested in several topics especially since he has announced his candidacy. Things he has shown interest in are social issues. A few are the government’s involvement in marriage and limiting abortion. Paul has also become involved in the legalization of marijuana. Paul has been an unreserved critic when it comes to the war on drugs. He has pushed to legalize hemp for industrial uses and is the co-author of the boldest pro-medical marijuana bills in congressional history.
Senator Paul has a large influence on the public. Now that he is in the running for the 2016 presidential candidacy, he has gained a larger following and his political interests are being held under a spotlight. Because he has a larger following, Paul has become more powerful. Paul has been very passionate about this issue but is it genuine? When asked about his position on marijuana at the republican debate, Paul spoke about the problem with the criminalization of marijuana which is that the people who are arrested and imprisoned for having marijuana are also people who are poor and are often a person of color. Through his career, Paul has been consistent on his stance on the issue. This leads me to believe that his beliefs are sincere.
Michelle Alexander is a professor at Ohio State University, a civil rights supporter, and author. For several years Alexander has served as director of the Racial Justice Project at the ACLU of the Nothern California area which has lead a national campaign against racial profiling. She has been apart of several organizations that have lead a campaign for civil rights.
Alexander’s interest in civil rights has been the driving force of her academic and professional career. With her knowledge of civil rights Alexander has become an activist for decriminalizing marijuana. She believes with marijuana being illegal, it contributes to a new drug war that is targeted towards minorities and poor people. With this idea, Alexander has written a book called The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. This book has sparked many conversations on the issue of mass incarceration and the legal status of marijuana. I believe Alexander’s interest in these issues is genuine and sincere. I believe she wants to make a change when it comes to these policies.
With the publication of Alexander’s book, she has been able to reach many people. There are many people who listen to Alexander and within those people many are writers themselves and they have written articles on her thoughts which allows more people to take notice to her work and opinions. Alexander has been mentioned in many articled and her is even being used in some school. Also with Alexander being a professor she is able to reach another demographic which widens the span of her stance on decriminalizing marijuana.
One problem with the criminalization of marijuana is that there are people being given harsh sentences. For example in the case of Patricia Spottedcrow; she was sentenced to 10 years in prison from a $31 marijuana transaction. Patricia now faces being separated from her four children and husband. In December 2009, Spottedcrow’s mother sold a $11 “dime bag” to an informant in front of her 9-year-old grandson (Patricia’s son). Two weeks later the informant came back and this time Patricia was there and she sold the informant $20 of marijuana and that was when she was arrested. Spottedcrow was charged with distribution but also faced a charge of additional charge of possession of a dangerous substance in the presence of a minor because her children were there.
There are many cases of this in the U.S. and it has majorly impacted the prison population. According to esquire, about half of the 1.64 million people who are arrested for drug violations every year likely carrying a tiny amount of marijuana in their pocket.
As a result of the numerous discussions that continue to arise around the issue of the legal status of marijuana in the United States the tide seems to be turning towards a more lenient approach if not full legalization. One of the most compelling arguments in this debate has been the consequential mass incarceration of millions of people of color who have been effectively made collateral damage in this debate. As the prison population swells and costs rise accordingly, the reclassification of marijuana as well as a more consistent legal status seem likely.
Whether or not people are willing to agree that the correlation between the rise in mass incarceration and the legal status of marijuana is causal, the reality is that a growing number of Americans – for a variety of reasons – feel that marijuana should no longer be a key player in the war on drugs and only then will we have direct evidence of the causal link between the two.