Nation’s Cost of Imprisoning Criminals for Marijuana Offenses


Published: 03/05/2012

by Benjamin Roussey


Marijuana Prison Cost

Nearly one in every six prison inmates in the federal prison in the United States is serving time for marijuana related offenses. This is a very significant statistic and it reflects on the economic burden that marijuana control has placed on the nation. The number of people in federal prison for marijuana offenses exceeds the number of federal inmates for violence related offenses.


Harsh Sentences for Marijuana


Fifteen states in America have laws that can lead to life sentence for a non-violent marijuana related offense. The average duration of the sentence of a convicted murderer in the country is about six years. This reveals a serious discrepancy in the way marijuana related non-violent crimes are punished in comparison to violent crimes.


Most people are unaware that a marijuana crime may be punishable under local, state or federal laws.  The punishment for the same crime can differ considerably among different states. For instance, the state of Montana can hand you a life sentence for a first-time offense of growing a single plant of marijuana.


High Percentage of Marijuana Arrests


The U.S. Department of Justice reported in 2007 that the total number of drug related arrests in the U.S.A. were 1,841,182. Marijuana arrests accounted for more than 47 percent of the total drug related arrests. This translates to nearly 900,000 people arrested for marijuana related offenses in a single year. More significantly, about 89 percent of these arrests were for the offense of marijuana possession.


The Marijuana Policy Project takes into account the 41,000 people serving time in a federal or state prison at any given point of time for marijuana offenses. This does not include the prisoners in county jails. That number exceeds the total number of prisoners for all charges combined in eight European countries.


High Monetary Costs of Imprisonment


According a report released by the Drug Policy Alliance, the estimated cost of marijuana related arrests in New York exceeds 75,000,000 dollars a year. The NYPD makes about 350,000 arrests each year for marijuana related misdemeanors. This report is based on estimated legal costs involved in processing a misdemeanor arrest which costs approximately $1,500 to $2,000 in NYC.


Similar high costs of imprisonment and the legal process are incurred in most of the states, leading to a large, unaffordable economic burden of marijuana related arrests on the country. This does not take into account the incalculably high human costs involved in treating marijuana possession as an offense and locking up hundreds of thousands of people each year. The inherent loss of national productivity is also one of the key economic fallouts of this process.