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Who's Really in Prison for Marijuana?

NCJ Number
Jeffrey Robinson
Date Published
May 2005
38 pages
This booklet presents data to challenge the myth that the Nation's prisons are filled with otherwise law-abiding people who were imprisoned for the simple possession of marijuana.
In 1997, the year for which the most recent data are available, only 1.6 percent of State inmates were in prison for offenses that involved only marijuana; and less than 1 percent of all State inmates had been convicted under a charge of only marijuana possession. Of these inmates convicted for only marijuana possession, just 0.3 percent were first-time offenders. At the Federal level, of the drug defendants sentenced for marijuana crimes in 2001, the overwhelming majority were convicted for trafficking; only 2.3 percent (186 individuals) were sentenced for simple possession; and of the 174 individuals for whom sentencing information is known, only 63 were imprisoned. The expanding number of drug courts have helped ensure that the vast majority of those arrested only for possessing and using drugs are sentenced to mandatory treatment under close monitoring rather than imprisonment. 1 figure and 66 notes