Can any policy, however high-minded, be moral if it leads to widespread corruption, imprisons so many, has so racist an effect, destroys our inner cities, wreaks havoc on misguided and vulnerable individuals and brings death and destruction to foreign countries?
Milton Friedman,
a Nobelist in economics, is a senior research fellow at the Hoover Institution

One in every 142 U.S. residents was in prison or jail [in 2002].1 The number of Americans under the control of the criminal justice system grew by 130,700 [in 2003] to reach a new high of nearly 6.9 million, according to a Justice Department report [released 26 July 2004].i This is about 3.2 percent of the adult population in the United States, the report said, and the total includes people in jail and prison as well as those on probation and parole.2 About 58 percent of federal prisoners are being held for drug law violations.… Among state inmates, approximately 21 percent are confined for drug offenses.3

There have been over ten million arrests for marijuana possession since 1970.… While it may be a rare case these days that a person is put in prison for nothing more than smoking a joint, there is fairly solid evidence to conclude that at least 2.4% of total prison inmates are in for marijuana possession. The fact that annually at least 50,000 Americans have had years of their lives taken away for merely possessing marijuana is quite appalling — a plant that at least one third of all Americans have at one time used.… There are well over 720,000 marijuana arrests per year. Of these, the vast majority (88%) are for possession alone.… [The Marijuana Policy Project reports on an FBI report that found in 2005 that state and local police arrested someone for marijuana once every 40 seconds, or 786,545 people.]

Being arrested is no small thing. You are handcuffed, taken into custody, fingerprinted, mug shots taken, held until you can post bail, and pretty well guaranteed to receive a criminal record, jail time or not.4

Those with one drug-possession offense are ineligible for federal college aid for one year after conviction. A second drug-possession or first drug-sale conviction means ineligibility for two years. More convictions bar aid indefinitely, unless the offender undergoes drug rehabilitation.5

Doing hard time is no laughing matter. It destroys lives. It exposes you to aggressive, violent criminals, abuse, diseases,ii and leaves you permanently changed. Incarceration is completely ineffective in controlling drug use. Drugs are more available as well as more appealing inside of prison. In fact, a marijuana using prisoner will likely turn to a harder drug because the drug test for marijuana use is much harder to beat.6

Considering that there isn’t much in the way of addiction treatment within our prisons, this presents a very real problem.

That the presence of a given kind of behavior is the result of a sequence of social experiences during which the person acquires a conception of the meaning of the behavior, and perceptions and judgments of objects and situations, all of which make the activity possible and desirable. Thus, the motivation or disposition to engage in the activity is built up in the course of learning to engage in it and does not antedate this learning process. For such a view it is not necessary to identify those “traits” which “cause” the behavior. Instead, the problem becomes one of describing the set of changes in the person’s conception of the activity and of the experience it provides him.7

It costs three to four times as much to house a prisoner as it does to enroll them into a treatment program.iii The RAND Corporation has found that drug treatment is much more effective and far less costly than longer sentences or conventional enforcement.8

[Expert William J. Chambliss, speaking as the Head of Criminology Department at Georgetown University, said in an interview for the 1996 documentary The Hemp Revolution:] “We will look back on this era and the response to drugs in this country, and think that was the worse thing that happened in the McCarthy era. It is insanity run amok and there is not a sane voice in the federal government saying anything about it.” 9

[Former House Speaker Newt] Gingrich propose[d] that drug dealers get mandatory life terms on first convictions and the death sentence for second convictions. “If you sell it, we are going to kill you,” he said.10

The legalization of medical marijuana remains a tenuous topic in the United States. Much debate revolves around a March 1999 report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), which studied the potential health benefits of marijuana at the request of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). The report, which takes an extensive look at the issue, does not conclusively support those for or against medical marijuana. While legalization on the state level is a clear victory for advocates of medicinal marijuana, users who are caught with the drug are still subject to punishment under federal law, which supercedes state law.11

Cannabis facts for medical treatments including ADD and ADHD

DEA agents have moved against medical marijuana gardens as small as six plants, over the protests of local district attorneys. In at least three cases, federal officials have arrested patients already acquitted on state charges because of their medical needs. [By 12 September 2002], over a half-dozen medical marijuana growers ha[d] been sent to federal prison [that] year for activities they had reason to believe were legal under state law.12

In a [2003] vote hailed by marijuana advocates as the most progressive in the United States, more than 58 percent of [Seattle, WA,] voters endorsed a bill that explicitly requires authorities to “make cases involving marijuana offenses, in which the marijuana was intended for adult personal use, the city’s lowest law enforcement priority.”… Seattle’s citizens have told local police and prosecutors they should make marijuana use the least of their worries and instead provide better protection of homes, streets and neighborhoods.13

[In 2005], voters [in Denver made the “Mile High City”] the first major city to legalize small amounts of marijuana, but the mayor warned that state law still makes possession of the drug illegal.… A few other cities, including…Oakland, have laws that make marijuana possession a low priority for police. A dozen states, including Colorado, have decriminalized possession of small amounts but still issue fines.… Bruce Mirken, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C., said Denver’s vote will spur initiatives in other cities to legalize and regulate marijuana like alcohol or tobacco.14

Professor Robert MacCoun’s testimony [to the House Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources] was one of the best-informed, as it consisted of a review of research he and others had conducted on the effects of marijuana decriminalization in the United States and in countries such as the Netherlands and Australia. According to the available research, little or no increase in marijuana or other drug use has been shown under decriminalization, nor have adolescent attitudes changed as a result. It was noted that the Netherlands saw a significant increase in marijuana use among 18 to 20 year-olds between 1984 and 1992, a time in which the number of coffeeshops selling cannabis in Amsterdam increased tenfold. However, Dutch heroin and cocaine use have not increased, and crime rates have not increased because of the policy. In fact, it appears that fewer Dutch cannabis users go on to use cocaine, possibly because the quasi-legal cannabis market is separated from the illicit hard drug market.15

When prohibition ended in 1932, the specialists and organizations that had grown up to facilitate the smuggling of alcoholic beverages transferred their talents, contacts, and personnel to the smuggling of drugs. When, in the thirties, marijuanaiv and cocaine were added to the list of illegal drugs, the business expanded and smuggling became an international enterprise of gigantic proportions.… When Seattle’s crime network was in full swing, on the fifteenth of every month an official of the state House of Representitives flew from Seattle to San Francisco carrying a satchel full of one-hundred dollar bills. This was “laundered money.”… The amount in the satchel varied each month depending on how much Seattle bookmakers, gamblers, and narcotics dealers owed investors in other parts of the United States. It also depended on how much Seattle’s people wanted to either launder through banks into secret accounts or invest in enterprises in other parts of the country.…

Criminal behavior is generated because of the contradictions that inevitably arise in the course of the working out of the particular form of social, political, and economic structures. The types of crime, the amount of crime, and the distribution of crime in a particular historical period and society depend on the nature of the existing contradictions, and the mechanisms institutionalized for handling the conflicts and dilemmas produced by the contradictions.… Making [a] drug illegal and thereby creating crime networks is a very high price to pay for a relatively small benefit.…

Marijuana use is much less harmful than the use of alcohol. Where marijuana use has been essentially legalized (in California for example), crime networks have dissipated in importance in the production and supply of this commodity.… Indeed, the elimination of profits from drugs and gambling would reduce the annual take of crime networks in the United States by billions of dollars. Since money is power, it would correspondingly reduce their power.16

“We should be able to understand that guns and violence and money laundering and drug smuggling are all linked and that none of these can be addressed without taking into account the economic security, the economic growth of the nations,” [drug czar Gen. Barry] McCaffrey said.17

The second condition necessary for reducing the power and influence of crime networks is the creation of organizations to survey government operations. We cannot expect the [FBI,v] police or the CIAvi to control their own criminality. The forces that lead to their criminality are far too powerful. What is necessary is that citizen groups form that will constantly watch over government agencies.18

i For the first time in U.S. history, more than one of every 100 adults is in jail or prison, according to a new report documenting America's rank as the world's No. 1 incarcerator. It urges states to curtail corrections spending by placing fewer low-risk offenders behind bars. Using state-by-state data, the report says 2,319,258 Americans were in jail or prison at the start of 2008 — one out of every 99.1 adults. Whether per capita or in raw numbers, it's more than any other nation.
— David Crary (Associated Press), "Record-high ratio of Americans in prison," Yahoo! News, 28 February 2008.

ii A bacterial epidemic at San Diego-area prisons is now is [sic] out in the community, and it is spreading quickly. How did it escape? The answer lies in the overuse of antibiotics.… The organism is MRSA, a type of bacteria called staphylococcus aurous, or staph for short. In hospital patients, infections caused by antibiotic-resistant staph have been common for years. But it hasn't affected healthy people until now.… MRSA infections have been spread among healthy newborns, children, prisoners and athletes. The one common link is the degree of close body contact and sharing objects such as toys, sports equipment or soap and towels.
— “Common Prison Infection Spreads To General Public,”, 3 May 2004.

iii Hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent on this effort [War on Drugs] — with no one held accountable for its failure.
— Walter Cronkite, “Why I Support DPA, and So Should You,” Drug Policy Alliance newsletter, 23 Feb 2006.

iv [In 1937, the controversial Marijuana Tax Act was passed creating a new source of crime.] No primary empirical evidence was presented about the effects of the drug…only hearsay and emotional pleas from the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and a few state law enforcement agents. The law was tied neither to scientific study nor to law enforcement need. The legislative review concluded that Congress had been ‘hoodwinked.’
— Chris Conrad, Hemp Lifeline to the Future (Los Angeles: Creative Xpressions, 1993).

v [Republican Senator Charles] Grassley [of Iowa] wrote: “Questions have been raised in the public arena in recent years regarding the FBI’s ability to investigate iteslf.”
The Associated Press, “Justice Dept. to probe possible FBI cover-up,” The Seattle Times, 27 Feb 1997, 120(50), p. A4.

vi During U.S. military involvement in Laos and other parts of Indochina, Air America flew opium and heroin throughout the area (documentary). Many GI’s in Vietnam became addicts. A laboratory built at CIA headquarters in northern Laos was used to refine heroin. After a decade of American military intervention, Southeast Asia had become the source of 70 percent of the world's illicit opium and the major supplier of raw materials for America's booming heroin market.
— William Blum, “The Real Drug Lords: A brief history of CIA involvement in the Drug Trade,” at; See also William J. Chambliss (Professor of Sociology and Chair of the Sociology Dept. at the Geroge Wash. U., and President of the Am. Society of Criminology (1988)), On the Take: From Petty Crooks to Presidents (Indiana: University Press, 1988).

Excerpt from
Conspiracy! (1984)

The War on Crime
Is actually a war on marijuana
They’d have us shoot the line
Control the dosage
Then cause trauma

Brief history of Hemp

Hemp for Victory (1942 government documentary)

The Drug on War


1 Daniel Yee (The Associated Press), “Inmate Skin Infections Becoming a Concern,” Yahoo! News, 17 Oct 2003.

2 Fox Butterfield (The New York Times), “Record 6.9 million people in criminal system,” San Francisco Chronicle, 26 July 2004.

3 U.S. Department of Justice, Advance for Release: “Comparing Federal and State Prisoners,” 2 Oct 1994, at North Illinois University,

4 Derek Snider, “ONDCP Claims ‘Joint’ Smokers Don’t go to Prison,” BBSNews, 7 Feb 2003.

5Scholarship created for US students with drug use records,” DrugScope, 26 Mar 2002.

6 Snider, “ONDCP.”

7 Howard Becker, “On Becoming A Marihuana User,” American Journal of Sociology, 1953, pp. 235-242, in George S. Bridges, Deviant Behavior: An Anthology of Readings (New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1994), p. 51.

8 Snider, “ONDCP.”

9 William Chambliss (Head of Criminology Department, Georgetown University), interviewed in Anthony Clarke, The Hemp Revolution (documentary), 1996.

10 Molly Ivins, “A capitalistic nanny state,” San Francisco Chronicle, 20 May 1997, p. A23; See also The Associated Press, “Gingrich Wants Death for Drug Dealers,” The Hartford Courant, 27 August 1995; and Claude Tower, “Newt’s Solution: ‘If you sell drugs, we are going to kill you,’” at

11 Jon Garbo, “Hawaii Approves Medical Marijuana Bill,” GayHealth, 2000.

12 Ellen Komp, “Margaret Sanger of Marijuana Arrested,” Cannabis News, 12 Sep 2002.

13 Reuters, “Seattle votes to make marijuana crime low priority,” 17 Sep 2003, at,

14 Patrick O’Driscoll, “Denver votes to legalize marijuana possession,” USA Today, 3 Nov 2005.

15 Scott Ehlers (Drug Policy Foundation), “House Subcommittee Holds Second Hearing Attacking Drug Policy Reform,” The Razor Wire, Sep/Oct 1999.

16 William J. Chambliss (Professor of Sociology and Chair of the Sociology Dept. at the Geroge Wash. U., and President of the Am. Society of Criminology (1988)), On the Take: From Petty Crooks to Presidents (Indiana: University Press, 1988), pp. 156, 184, 209, 215.

17 The Associated Press, “U.S. links drug war, economic aid to tiny Caribbean nations,” The Seattle Times, 27 April 1997, 15(17), p. A11.

18 Chambliss, On the Take, pp. 215-216.

See also

History Undercover: Air America: The CIA’s Secret Airline
Crack/Cocaine Disparity
State-by-state marijuana laws
Seattle Hempfest: 3rd weekend of August

State Marijuana Penalties

Campaign for the Restoration and Regulation of Hemp (JPG)
Drug Policy Alliance (animated GIF)
Stop the Drug War .org (GIF)

Stop the Drug War (JPG) Seattle Hempfest
3rd weekend of August

Hempy Pot-Luck (JPG) March to end the Drug War
& Hempy Pot-Luck
Seattle, August 3, 2003 6PM

Drug War Facts (JPG)
Green Cross (JPG)
misc. keywords: statistics