The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world by a substantial amount. Overcrowding, especially in California, has been a significant issue in the past 30 years. The prison capacity exceeds 170,000—a value indicative that California’s state prison system is significantly overbooked. We do not have the facilities to provide effective treatment, which often results in high rates of recidivism, or second or third-time offenders. Thus, many inmates cycle into and out of prison system. One of the major problems with overcrowding is that current laws are far too retributive or punishing, especially in regards to the illegality of marijuana. Policies, such as the three-strikes law which doubles time for a second offense and gives a 35-year to life term for the third, are a direct response to regulate the recreational use of drugs. By legalizing cannabis at large we could also help fight the issue of prison overcrowding.
Of all criminal subtypes, drug offenders account for a majority of prison population. Substance abusers also have the highest recidivism rates, primarily because they violate the terms of their parole or probation. Because of the substantially large proportion and high recidivism of drug-related inmates, legalizing drugs, such as marijuana, would resolve the issue of overcrowding. Especially considering the fact that weed-related arrests made up half (49.8%) of the total incarcerations in 2008 (http://drugwarfacts.org/cms/?q=node/53). From this data there is substantial evidence to conclude that legalizing marijuana would help resolve prison overcrowding; a majority of inmates are drug offenders, most of whose charges were associated with cannabis.
Marijuana should also be legalized to help alleviate the issue of prison overcrowding because users do not pose as big of a threat to society as other legal drugs. Marijuana research reveals users are not prone to violent or aggressive behavior while those intoxicated from alcohol are. Studies indicate that up to 1/3 of all convicted offenders guilty of violent crimes consumed alcohol at the time of the offense, a higher ratio than any other explicit drugs. This depicts an inconsistency within the legal system. If marijuana—a drug that’s effects are not closely linked to violent or criminal behavior—is the number one criminalized substance, why does it constitute such harsh judicial penalty for repeat offenders? Simply, marijuana should not.
Perhaps, legalizing marijuana could be the keystone with which to legalize other drugs. The prohibition of drugs has been historically linked with negative effects—drugs become more dangerous and less regulated, use increases, and crime becomes more prevalent. The potency effect explains how increased regulation is associated with more dangerous drug products. People became sick after smoking marijuana that has been sprayed with the chemical paraquat; the U.S. had persuaded Mexico to spray their plants with herbicide. Similarly during the prohibition of alcohol, poisonous wood alcohol was illegally manufactured and sold. After marijuana was outlawed in Controlled Substances Act in 1970, statistics reveal that its use actually increased, contrary to desired results. This was also indicative in the alcohol Prohibition; while use declined in the first few years, once the black market was established, use increased by 60 percent. Furthermore, drugs lead to higher crime rates because of the subsequent formation of the black market. Drug dealers are unable to use the legal system to solve issues involving fraud, theft, and other corrupt exchanges so they resort to violence. In addition violence increases because the illegality of the trade warrants a higher price on the substance—people are forced to steal, murder, and partake in other illicit acts to fund their addiction or protect their profits. If the funds saved from law enforcement were redirected into drug education and and awareness, then there should be no reason to assume that overall usage will increase. Especially when considering that there is no evidence that the current prohibition system has had any effect on the most severe usage. By legalizing marijuana we may be able convince society of the benefits of having a drug-regulated market across all drugs.