After a decades’ long statewide effort to arrest and imprison ever more Californians, the Golden State’s prison system is in crisis. Now, a federal panel of judges may require the state to release tens of thousands of prisoners to reduce overcrowding.
Even though America’s and California’s jailing so many of its citizens will be seen by historians as reprehensible, the thought of now freeing prisoners warped by their prison experience is terrifying. Nearly everyone incarcerated comes out worse than they went in, less likely to be able to be employed and less of an asset and more of a danger to community and family. California’s (and America’s) incarceration binge has been a negative investment in social capital, just a education builds positive social capital. The prospect of possibly 50,000 prisoners, brutalized and criminalized by their incarceration, soon walking the streets of California is sobering.
One method to reduce the danger from the released prisoners is to release first those that should never have been in prison in the first place. Especially prominent in this group are those incarcerated for any “crime” dealing with cannabis. All American laws against cannabis are based on its erroneous Schedule I classification with the DEA and the Controlled Substances Act. Such draconian scheduling requires that the drug be of no medical value. Research over the last 30 years, most of it performed outside the USA, leaves no inkling of a doubt that cannabis can be of great medical value for preventing and treating a wide variety of medical conditions. The Schedule I requirement of no medical value is clearly invalid in the case of marijuana. Since laws were made and penalties set based upon such error, the penalties of people charged with violations involving this plant should be reduced or dropped.
A down-scheduling should automatically strike penalties associated with Schedule I drugs. Many of California’s 158,000 state prisoners are caged because of these heated penalties. If marijuana were scheduled at a more reasonable Schedule 5, many of the “crimes” that took many of these Californians to jail would no longer be considered crimes, at least not major felonies supporting long years of highly-expensive incarceration.
Many of these prisoners should never have been arrested, much less deprived of their freedom and their future. They, and the rest of society, are victims of thoughtless, self-serving laws, such as the Schedule 1 based cannabis laws that have jailed so many Californians. Such draconian laws have served the California prison guards union well, but have helped bankrupt the state. If tens of thousands of California prisoners are to be released, then for safety and justice release first those that have run afoul of anti-marijuana zealotry. Release cannabis captives before prisoners that have committed actual crimes with real victims. Avoid arresting and jailing any more people for their involvement with this ancient plant.