Public support for the federal cannabis lawsuit is overwhelmingly positive but, despite today’s liberalizing marijuana reform, the war on drugs is still strong, and federal sentencing hasn’t caught up with popular opinion.
Our current drug sentencing policy, which dates back to Reagan-era 1986, follows mandatory minimum guidelines that force a judge to hand down a minimum (and oftentimes long) prison sentence for all drug crimes, violent or not.
A new survey by Drug Addiction Now reveals America’s views on drugs and justice and how popular opinion diverges greatly from official policy. The study found that for simple possession of marijuana, just 2% of Americans feel imprisonment alone is warranted. In reality, 89% of those convicted serve time for an average sentence of five months.
The same study found that the majority (60%) of Americans don’t believe in any combination of prison or probation for simple marijuana possession, and 42% believe the same for trafficking. However, the disparity is stark—national statistics show 90% of both offenses see prison time.
Even in this era of legalization, our criminal justice system is made up of harsh sentencing and mandatory minimums. Even more troublesome is the problem of bias. In fact, a majority of Americans believe current drug sentencing practices are racially biased—89% of Democrats and 9 in 10 African-Americans agree a racial bias exists. On the other hand, less than half of Republicans say the same.
Recently, many states have revised their mandatory penalties for marijuana and even retroactively granted pardons, which aligns with America’s desire for criminal justice reform. More than 90% of Democrats and 86% of Independent voters agree that drug offenders should be pardoned (or at least have their sentences reduced) if the drug they were initially charged with possessing or selling is subsequently decriminalized. On the contrary, nearly 1 in 4 Republicans believe in no reparations for decriminalized drug offenses.
Mandatory minimums make marijuana use a crime to be policed and punished; despite 29 states having medical cannabis laws and the rapid reform occurring nationwide, cannabis is treated like every other controlled substance under federal law. With public sentiment differing greatly from the policies enforced nationally, America may see criminal justice reform that transcends gender, ethnicity, race, and political affiliation sooner than we think.
Author Bio: Amanda Cohen covers and follows news surrounding various elements impacting our nation and focuses on topics that are currently influencing the American population with particular emphasis on marijuana legalization and drug policy.