The Corner

Politics & Policy

A Closer Look at Those ‘Non-Violent Drug Offenders’ Obama Mentioned

From the midweek edition of the Morning Jolt:

Let’s Look Closer at Those Non-Violent Drug Offenders Obama Mentioned

President Obama yesterday in Chicago: “Our prisons are crowded with non-violent offenders serving long sentences for drug crimes.”

From that wording, it’s easy to presume he’s talking about marijuana possession, and . . . no, that’s not really the case. According to that notorious anti-marijuana, pro-war-on-drugs rag . . . er . . . Rolling Stone:

About 750,000 people are arrested every year for marijuana offenses in the U.S. There’s a lot of variation across states in what happens next. Not all arrests lead to prosecutions, and relatively few people prosecuted and convicted of simple possession end up in jail. Most are fined or are placed into community supervision. About 40,000 inmates of state and federal prison have a current conviction involving marijuana, and about half of them are in for marijuana offenses alone; most of these were involved in distribution. Less than one percent are in for possession alone.

When I pointed this out yesterday, some folks argued that even 400 Americans sitting in prison for marijuana possession is too many. Others argued that marijuana is so harmless — after all, it’s legal in several states — that dealers shouldn’t be sent to prison. (Of course, selling legal products like alcohol or tobacco without a license is against the law, too. Here in Virginia, the penalty for selling alcohol without a license is “up to $2,500 fine and/or 12 months in jail.”)

But Obama’s reference to “drug crimes” refers to a lot of non-simple-possession crimes: “Drug offenses were the most common federal crime in fiscal year 2013. Most of the 25,000 drug cases involved the manufacture, sale, or transportation of a drug, while 2,332 of those cases involved the simple possession of a drug.” In that year, cocaine made up 37 percent of offenders, methamphetamines made up 24 percent; marijuana made up 21 percent, heroin was 9.6 percent.

I’m sorry, but prison time for coke, meth, or heroin dealers doesn’t strike me as one of the world’s pressing injustices.

I mean, the YouTube filmmaker served nearly a year in prison, Dinesh D’Souza was sentenced to eight months in a halfway house for a campaign-finance violation, Senator Ted Stevens was successfully prosecuted because of withheld evidence, Rick Perry gets hit with BS corruption charges for trying to get rid of a drunk-driving prosecutor . . . and we’re supposed to feel that drug dealers aren’t getting a fair shake?

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