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California’s Prop 64 Underscores Absurdity of Holding Pot Prisoners in States Where It’s Legal 

Maureen Meehan

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Now that over half the country has voted to legalize medical marijuana and another half-dozen could do the same this coming November, isn’t it time to start discussing why non-violent marijuana busts still account for over half of all drug arrests in the United States?

Of the 8.2 million marijuana arrests made between 2001 and 2010, 88 percent were for simply possessing pot, according to the ACLU, and not large amounts. Those figures haven’t changed much in the past decade.

It begs the question: why are nonviolent pot offenders still behind bars in the four states where recreational weed is totally legal?

We all know the answer—the failed War on Drugs.

Taxpayers are spending over $1 billion annually to incarcerate pot offenders, about 44 percent of whom had no or minimal criminal histories prior to their convictions, and over a third are over the age of 40, according to a NORML report.

Stephen Downing, former LA Deputy Police Chief, wrote in the Huffington Post that, back in the day, cops only locked up real criminals. “Rapists. Murderers. Bank robbers. Prison was a place for bad guys. These senseless laws that over-criminalize drug use were passed in haste amid a climate of fear and benefit no one.”

In addition to pardoning inmates incarcerated for nonviolent marijuana offenses, it is also important to give them the means and opportunity to clear their criminal records. A pot conviction follows one for life and affects just about everything one needs or might want to do—like buy a house, get a job or get a loan. The list is long.

This is where California’s Prop 64 could set a national precedent.

A critical section of Proposition 64 reads “individuals serving sentences for activities that are made legal or are subject to lesser penalties under the measure would be eligible for resentencing.”

It also states that, “individuals who have completed sentences for crimes that are reduced by the measure could apply to the courts to have their criminal records changed.”

This segment California’s Adult Use of Marijuana Act is huge and needs to be replicated across the land for the sake of the hundreds of thousands languishing in prisons for a crime that is no longer a crime.

The contradiction is unacceptable.

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