2 of 4 Benefits of the Cannabis Industry: How Legalizing Cannabis Impacts the Criminal Justice System
Throughout the history of the United States, cannabis has gone from the leading crop during colonial days, to a banned substance demonized in Reefer Madness, to a medical drug, to most recently becoming legalized in a handful of states. It’s been a tumultuous history for the cannabis industry. Everyone seems to have a different opinion on its use, but we’re not here to discuss the subjectivity of a recreational drug. In this post, we’ll examine how legalized cannabis impacts the criminal justice system.
Cannabis users are nonviolent offenders.
Beginning in the 1970’s, there were roughly 100,000 arrests per year for cannabis use. At the turn of the millennium, that number had increased to over 700,000 arrests per year. That equates to roughly 6% of the prison population in the United States. This is a significant problem; 700,000 people per year are being placed behind bars for doing little more been partaking in their favorite vice.
With so many people being incarcerated for nonviolent crimes, the criminal justice system is wasting an inordinate amount of money on the issue. From police officers spending their time arresting cannabis users, the amount of effort that goes into filing citations, and the wasted taxpayer dollars that go into paying police officers to appear in court for nonviolent crimes is an atrocity.
If we’re talking taxpayer dollars, let’s not forget that taxpayer dollars fund the prisons that are housing these nonviolent offenders. What’s more, nonviolent offenders who spend a significant amount of time in prison–like many cannabis users in recent history–exit prison has hardened criminals. The increased recidivism that comes from incarcerating peaceful people places another tax burden on the system that could easily be avoided.
Legalized sales put a plug on the black market.
In 2016, Colorado recorded $1.3 billion in legalized cannabis sales. Of course, the cannabis industry is much larger than this because of the prevalent black-market, but that $1.3 billion is money that goes to the State instead of drug cartels. Improving the legislation and regulating the cannabis industry in much the same way that the alcohol industry is today could almost wholly cut off illegal activity within the cannabis industry.
If the government could fully legalize cannabis and completely delegitimize the profits of the black market, the tax windfall would be a benefit for the criminal justice system. Law-enforcement could see an increase in allocated funds to better perform their jobs and public education programs that could be funded to enlighten the communities about recreational cannabis use would both further decrease crime rates within the communities.
Does recreational cannabis use threaten the public’s safety?
According to several of Colorado’s top law enforcement officials as well as the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the answer is no. In 2017, they reported that the rate of cannabis use amongst both adults and adolescents has not changed in either the number of people nor the frequency of use within Colorado.
At the same time, the Summit County District Attorney, Bruce Brown, spoke to the Summit Daily and indicated that he “feels like legalization did not at all significantly increase threats to public safety.” Echoing that sentiment, Chaffee County Sheriff John Spezze said, “there hasn’t been anything remarkable in terms of pot being a law-enforcement issue.” Clearly, law-enforcement officials who are working within legalized cannabis zones agree that legalized cannabis has not created additional law enforcement problems.
A sprouting New World.
With the waste of money that goes into incarcerating nonviolent offenders like cannabis users, the money that governments could move from the black market into their own pockets, and the suffocation of time that law-enforcement personnel currently face in enforcing outdated cannabis laws, legalized cannabis offers many routes to improving the criminal justice system.