Law & Politics

Legalization would save huge amounts of law enforcement resources as well as protect vast numbers of people from losing their livelihoods.

This Weedist series is dedicated to stopping the misinformation [~3 meg PDF, No On 64 ‘fact’ sheet] being spread to prevent Colorado voters from legalizing recreational marijuana for adults over 21 via Amendment 64. The No On 64 campaign, with slogans such as ‘Put Colorado’s Kids First’, is principally funded (95%) by alleged former child abusers and rehab profiteers.

In part 4 of our campaign to defeat the lies being spread by No On 64, Weedist investigates the truth about the amount of people that lose their livelihood to incarceration and felon status because of cannabis prohibition. Following is a direct quote from No On 64’s so-called fact sheet.

Myth: Our prisons are packed with nonviolent marijuana offenders.
Fact: Several states, including Colorado, give citations and fines much like traffic tickets for possession of marijuana under certain amounts. Less than 1% of the state’s prison population is incarcerated for marijuana offenses—including large-scale dealers and growers. There are more people in prison for repeat traffic offenses than marijuana offenses.


  1.  “Several states, including Colorado, give citations and fines much like traffic tickets for possession of marijuana under certain amounts.” In places like Denver, this is usually true. We in Colorado have ‘decriminalized’ possession and use of small amounts of marijuana, but more serious options are still available to law enforcement and the courts, as is described in a recent article by Michael Roberts on Denver Westword Blogs: “The Gettman study [Marijuana in Colorado: Arrests, Usage and Related Data pdf] lists the typical penalty for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana as a $100 fine. But Warren Edson notes that punishments vary by jurisdiction, with some parts of the state still applying a sentencing range of up to a $1,000 fine and a year in jail to even arrests at this level. He describes Westminster and Lakewood as two communities that can be especially tough on those found with even small amounts of marijuana. “We need to get over the myth that this is a simple traffic ticket,” he says. “I have to warn my clients, ‘If you’re not nice to the officer, the officer can charge you into municipal court.'”
  2. “Less than 1% of the state’s prison population is incarcerated for marijuana offenses—including large-scale dealers and growers.” This is actually a true statement, though a very misleading one. According to the Colorado Department of Corrections’ Statistical Report, Fiscal Year 2011 (table, p 43)[pdf], less than 1% of state prison inmates have marijuana offenses as their most serious offense. Of the 22,380 inmates in Colorado state prisons, only 162 of them are in for marijuana, which is exactly 0.72%. Similar low percentage rates for marijuana can be found in many state’s prisons where marijuana has been ‘decriminalized’ and medical marijuana is legal. The reason for these numbers is simple, and the quote from No On 64 flies it right in the face of anyone reading their ‘fact’ sheet; “—including large-scale dealers and growers.” Guess what, though; Large-scale dealers and growers go to FEDERAL prison, not state prison. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, 47.8% of the 218,107 federal prisoners are incarcerated for ‘drug offenses.’ That’s 104,255 drug offenders in federal prisons. 12.4% of these drug offenders are incarcerated for marijuana, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (chart at bottom of page 4)[pdf]. That’s 12,928 people in federal prison for marijuana. These are the large-scale dealers and growers, as well as some home growers from areas where people don’t care about the difference between a large-scale commercial grow and a small private grow (See my article about Ken Unger, a disabled veteran from Missouri facing up to 25 years for his home medical garden). It is also interesting to note the number of marijuana arrests nationwide. According to a report by the FBI, in 2010 there were 750,591 total arrests for marijuana possession, which is 5.72% of total arrests in 2010. There were 103,247 total arrests for marijuana sales/ cultivation, or 0.8% of total arrests in 2010. While these are not Colorado statistics, they are certainly a reason for all Coloradans to vote for Amendment 64. We can be the state that forces change on a national level. Over 850,000 people were arrested for marijuana in the US in 2010 alone. 
  3. “There are more people in prison for repeat traffic offenses than marijuana offenses.” This is an utterly ridiculous statement. I believe I’ve just done a great job at countering this argument, but just for good measure let me share the number of prisoners held for repeat traffic offenses. In CO state prisons there are 153 people incarcerated for traffic violations, which is slightly less than the 162 marijuana offender inmates according to the Colorado Department of Corrections’ Statistical Report, Fiscal Year 2011(table, p 43)[pdf]. I can find no information about any federal inmates for repeat traffic violations.

It is clear that legalizing marijuana would save an incredible amount of people from the damage inflicted by marijuana arrests, as well as an incredible amount of law enforcement, court and prison resources (and thus, tax dollars).

If we here in Colorado and our friends in Washington and Oregon can pass our initiatives to legalize marijuana, Federal law will need to acknowledge the change. Some think they’ll do this by cracking down on any attempts to commercialize marijuana, but I think they’ll do this by finally acknowledging the facts that marijuana has medical properties and a risk of abuse far lower than alcohol, and thus should be removed from, or at least reclassified on, the list of controlled substances. Yes on Amendment 64!

Colorado Amendment 64: Know the Lies series:

Read more about the fact that marijuana is safe here on Weedist: