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 Other News: Senate Committee Weighs Costs of 'Mass Incarceration'

HealthAs Marijuana Arrests Top 800,000

Marijuana Policy Project

WASHINGTON, D.C. — As the Senate Joint Economic Committee prepared to hold a hearing [in October] examining the costs associated with the United States' exploding prison population, marijuana policy reformers urged the lawmakers to consider recent statistics suggesting an epidemic of frivolous marijuana arrests.

The hearings come as the U.S. prison population – including rising numbers of nonviolent offenders – nears what many experts believe to be an economic as well as a humanitarian crisis.

Officials at the Marijuana Policy Project cited several recent government and independent reports suggesting that misguided marijuana policies play a major role in prison overpopulation:

- The FBI's 2006 Uniform Crime Reports, released Sept. 12, revealed that marijuana arrests reached record numbers for the fourth year in a row, with 829,627 arrests, or one arrest every 38 seconds. Eighty-nine percent were for possession – not sale or manufacture. Meanwhile, marijuana use rates remain far higher than they were 15 years ago when marijuana arrests totaled nearly a third the current number. ...

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- According to the latest Bureau of Justice Statistics report, released in October 2006, 41,507 marijuana offenders were in state and federal prisons in 2004. This figure did not include those in county jails, where large numbers of marijuana offenders are incarcerated. Because marijuana arrest rates are far higher than they were in 2004, the number of marijuana offenders in prison is also likely much higher.

- A report released by public policy expert Jon Gettman, PhD, calculated that marijuana arrests, which constitute 5.54 percent of all U.S. arrests, cost taxpayers an estimated $10.7 billion each year, including the price of incarceration.

"Considering that the U.S. comprises less than 5 percent of the world's population but a quarter of the world's prisoners, the Joint Economic Committee deserves credit for taking this problem seriously," said Aaron Houston, MPP's congressional lobbyist. "But anyone serious about fixing U.S. prison overpopulation must be ready to talk openly and honestly about how our failed marijuana policies have contributed to this crisis."

With more than 23,000 members and 100,000 e-mail subscribers nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP works to minimize the harm associated with marijuana — both the consumption of marijuana and the laws that are intended to prohibit such use. MPP believes that the greatest harm associated with marijuana is imprisonment.

For more information, see www.MarijuanaPolicy.org

Posted 11/10/07

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