Nearly One In Eight US Drug Prisoners Are Behind Bars For Pot — Taxpayers Spending Over $1 Billion Annually To Incarcerate Pot Offenders

Washington, DC: Nearly one in eight drug prisoners in America are behind bars for marijuana-related offenses, according to data released this week by the US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS).
The BJS study, “Drug Use and Dependence, State and Federal Prisoners, 2004,” reports that 12.7 percent of state inmates and 12.4 percent of federal inmates incarcerated for drug violations are serving time for marijuana offenses.  Combining these percentages with separate US Department of Justice (DOJ) statistics on the total number of state and federal drug prisoners (BJS October 2005 Bulletin: “Prisoners in 2004” — NCJ 210677) suggests that there are now approximately 33,655 state inmates and 10,785 federal inmates incarcerated for marijuana offenses.
NORML Executive Director Allen St. Pierre said that the new BJS statistics belie the myth that few if any US prisoners are serving time for marijuana-related offenses.  “According to these figures, nearly 45,000 state and federal prisoners are behind bars for having committed some type of cannabis-related offense,” he said.  “This means that US taxpayers are currently spending over $1 billion annually to incarcerate Americans for pot.”
The BJS report did not provide specific data on what percentage of US prisoners were serving times for marijuana possession crimes versus marijuana cultivation and/or trafficking.
The BJS failed to include estimates on the percentage of inmates incarcerated in county jails for cannabis-related offenses.
A previous BJS report based on 1997 data indicated that in 1999 approximately 39,000 US prisoners were serving time for pot violations. A 2005 study by the Sentencing Project think-tank in Washington, DC suggested that approximately 68,500 Americans are either incarcerated or on probation for marijuana-related offenses.
According to data compiled by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and released in September, nearly 787,000 Americans were arrested for violating marijuana laws in 2005, the highest annual total ever recorded. Among those arrested, approximately 88 percent — ­some 696,074 — Americans ­were charged with marijuana possession only.
For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director, or Paul Armentano, NORML Senior Policy Analyst, at (202) 483-5500. Full text of the new BJS report is available online at: