Hey, Pennsylvania, Legalize Marijuana and Stop Destroying People’s Lives

UPDATE 2 (11/13/2017): The ACLU of Pennsylvania has pulled its report, Cannabis Crackdown, and issued a correction, which can be read here.

UPDATE (10/25/2017): It has come to the attention of the ACLU of Pennsylvania that the racial disparity in arrest rates for marijuana-related offenses in Pennsylvania may be inaccurate. The ACLU of Pennsylvania is recalculating the data provided in its report. An update will be posted here soon.

The war on marijuana continues to rage in Pennsylvania.

Despite slow progress in loosening the commonwealth’s laws on the devil’s lettuce — including a new medical cannabis products law and municipal decriminalization ordinances in its two largest cities, its state capital, and the borough that is home to its largest university — arrests for marijuana offenses are not abating. In fact, arrests are increasing. And the greatest impact is on people of color.

On Monday, the ACLU of Pennsylvania released a new report that analyzes seven years of arrest data, from 2010 to 2016, which was compiled from the Uniform Crime Reporting System. That analysis found that arrests of adults for marijuana possession increased by 33 percent in the 66 counties outside of Philadelphia. (We calculated that number without Philadelphia because its decriminalization ordinance went into effect in October 2014, which led to a dramatic drop in criminal arrests for possession and made Philadelphia an outlier in our data set.) Over those seven years, arrests for possession increased in 50 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.

And the racial disparity in the arrest rates of white people and Black people is not subsiding. In fact, it’s getting worse. The racial disparity increased every year in that time period. By 2016, a Black adult was eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white adult, despite survey data that consistently shows that usage rates are effectively the same among people of all races.

In all, there were about 178,000 arrests for marijuana-related offenses in Pennsylvania during those seven years, and nearly 80 percent of them were for possession. Using the RAND Corporation’s estimate for the costs per arrest from 2015, we concluded that taxpayers spent more than $225 million on those arrests.

It is time to end prohibition and legalize marijuana in Pennsylvania.

There are incremental steps that we could pursue to diminish arrests and racial disparities — more municipal decriminalization ordinances, anti-bias training for law enforcement, and the like. But after absorbing these statistics, we realized that incremental progress is not enough. Only the legalization of marijuana for recreational use, as eight other states have already done, will end the devastating impact that marijuana arrests have on people’s lives.

Take David, a respected African-American healthcare worker who grew marijuana at home for his ailing wife, who suffered from chronic pain and depression. David (which is a pseudonym we’ve used to diminish further stigma from his arrest) was already an avid gardener, and the cannabis that he grew was intended solely to ease his wife’s suffering.

When she passed, he began dismantling his garden, slowly and piece by piece. Somehow, it was discovered, and David soon found himself on the receiving end of criminal charges, including a felony charge of possession with intent to deliver. David had no intention to sell to anyone. The cannabis he grew was a labor of love for his dying wife. To avoid the risk of a longer sentence, David pled guilty to the felony charge, with additional charges dropped, and spent six months in jail. He also lost his medical licenses and was forced to file for bankruptcy.

A marijuana arrest can put severe limitations on a person’s ability to carry out their daily life, including barriers to employment, education, and housing. And for what? A plant that is no more dangerous — and probably less so — than alcohol?

Pennsylvanians increasingly recognize this. A poll released last month by Franklin and Marshall College found 59 percent of those surveyed support legalization of marijuana, with just 31 percent opposed. The same poll showed 51 percent support last spring and 40 percent support last year. Support for legalization is growing every month.

When police target recreational marijuana consumers, they destroy lives. It is useless, pointless, and unnecessarily punitive. It is time to end prohibition and legalize marijuana in Pennsylvania.

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About half of the U.S. population has tried cannabis, at least 15% use it regularly, over 80% of high school seniors have reported cannabis "easy to get" for decades. Those who really want to use cannabis already are. Prohibition does little or nothing to prevent problematic use. In many cases prohibition makes cannabis usage problematic where it would not have been otherwise. The main thing that cannabis prohibition successfully prohibits is effective regulation.

A few issues created by prohibition: there are no quality controls to reduce contaminants (harmful pesticides, molds, fungus, other drugs), there is no practical way to prevent underage sales, billions in tax revenue are lost which can be used for all substance abuse treatment, underground markets for all drugs are empowered and expanded as a far more popular substance is placed within them, criminal records make pursuing many decent careers difficult, public mistrust and disrespect for our legal system, police, and government is increased, which can be devastating.

Prohibition is also very expensive, though, a cash cow for a number of powerful groups such as those related to law enforcement and the prison industry. They have powerful lobbies and influence that perpetuate a failed drug policy through ignorance, fear, disinformation and misinformation. This ensures an endless supply of lucrative contracts and grants from the government, to support their salaries, tools of the trade, and other expenses. Cash, property and other assets from civil forfeiture laws also significantly fatten their coffers while often violating civil rights.

Those who wish to live in a free society must accept that this means freedom for all people of that society, not only for certain groups and the activities they happen to enjoy. Obviously in some cases there are extreme circumstances that warrant intervention with criminal law. In the case of mind-altering drugs we have already set this precedent with alcohol. Cannabis is less harmful than alcohol to the consumer and especially to others. If we are to have justice, then the penalties for using, possessing and selling cannabis should be no worse than those of alcohol.

Considering the many issues created by cannabis prohibition, coupled with little, if any, reduction in problematic use, its continued support is irrational and harmful. Please help bring end to this irrational, costly and unjust prohibition. The organizations listed below fight every day to bring us sensible cannabis policies. Help them fight by joining their mailing lists, signing their petitions and writing your legislators when they call for it:

NORML - National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws - http://norml.org/
DPA - Drug Policy Alliance - http://www.drugpolicy.org/
MPP - The Marijuana Policy Project - http://www.mpp.org/
LEAP - Law Enforcement Action Partnership - http://www.leap.cc/


Excellent comment and so true.


I like to tie up two male cats so they spray urine in my face. Then I get really, really high! It’s called cheeseing, look it up. You’ll like it.

Ruben Hernandez

CBD & THC are Neuroprotective Antioxidants


Damn that photo of skunk looks sweeeeeeeeeeeeeett!

Dr. Joseph Goebbels

What do you expect from Goonsylvania ?


It's because African Americans are more likely to deal/sell weed, hence why there's more being arrested. The white people just pay $25 a g and smoke it at home which virtually makes them immune to getting caughy


Dude. I smoke and get caughy... err coffee, every morning. You, good sir or madame, are beyond the pale of stupidity. Not just because of your spelling error but mostly because there is no statistical deviation in consumption of cannabis aggregated by race or ethnic origins.


It’s a piggy cop trolling for info. Pay no attention to the person behind the curtain.


Who f*cking cares if they do sell. Mcdonalds sells food laced with trans fat to children. According to studies, simply having a gram of the stuff A DAY rasies your risk of serious health problems by like 30%+. Research it if you dont believe me, guarantee youll find an answer right away. Oh, but thats ok, right? Because the goddamn policy makers and enforcers (not the LAW, the LAW is the constitution and THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE) say so. You know what? F*ck pennysilvania, f*ck these policies, and f*ck the police. I hope all these motherf*ckers get shot, they've ruined countless lives for victimless crimes, they absolutey deserve death and nothing less. Just doing your job eh? Well Stalin and Putin were just doing their jobs too. So are terrorists and gangsters. And North Koreas dictator. So why don't you go rip your damn badges off and shove them up your dirty used up assh*les. Squill as you die little piggies squill.


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