In this new post over at Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform, I have flagged the array of new pieces at Reason in a “Weed Week” series. Though I recommend many of the ten pieces in the series, two in particular should be of particular interest for sentencing fans. Here are full headlines, links and short excerpts (with links from the original):
There are more than 4.5 million people on probation or parole in the U.S., nearly twice the number of people behind bars at any given time. All of these folks are subject to incarceration if they violate the terms of their supervised release, and in most places, a prohibition on using cannabis products may be one of those terms.
“Marijuana is a big issue when it comes to parole, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg” explains Tyler Nims, the executive director of the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform. “Parole is a huge issue in criminal justice reform and in particular in New York. But it’s unseen and unknown.”
According to analysis of probation and parole figures put together by the Pew Charitable Trusts, a little more than half of probation and parole stints end without incident. But nearly 350,000 people get new jail terms annually because they’ve failed to complete probation or parole with a spotless record. In some states, revocation of supervised release is the main driver of incarceration. In Georgia, for example, 67 percent of new prison admissions in 2015 were due to revoked probation or parole. The same was true in Rhode Island, where 64 percent of new prison admissions in 2016 were due to supervised release revocations.
Judges have wide discretion to set the terms for release. That often includes prohibiting behavior that is otherwise perfectly legal. Probation and parole guidelines can limit where people go, who they can consort with, and what they may or may not consume. Earlier this year, a judge in Hawaii told a man arrested for stealing car that he could not consume Pepsi while on probation — and put him under supervised release for four years. While incidents like that one are relatively rare, prohibiting the use of marijuana while on supervised release is standard.
Whether marijuana use will continue to be deemed a violation is something to watch and weigh in on as state-level legalization continues.
An estimated 40,000 marijuana offenders are serving time in state or federal prisons for agricultural or commercial activities that are now legal in nine states, earning entrepreneurs profits instead of prison sentences. According to the website lifeforpot.com, more than two dozen marijuana offenders are serving life sentences or prison terms that amount to the same thing.
Life sentences for cannabis are rare, and the vast majority of people arrested on marijuana charges — about 660,000 in 2017, nine out of 10 for simple possession — serve little or no time behind bars (although they may suffer long-lasting ancillary penalties). But some states still come down hard even on minor pot offenses.
In … Georgia, possessing one ounce or less of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Any more than that is a felony, triggering a one-year mandatory minimum and a maximum of 10 years for amounts up to 10 pounds. Pot penalties are similarly harsh in Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Wyoming, where the lowest-level marijuana offense can be punished by up to a year behind bars.
Even states that are not quite so punitive can have nasty surprises in store for cannabis consumers. In Texas, possessing two ounces or less of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail. But possessing any amount of cannabis concentrate is a felony, and the maximum penalties apply to weights above 400 grams. The entire weight of food or beverages spiked with concentrate counts toward that threshold, which is why a teenager caught with 1.4 pounds of pot cookies and brownies in 2014 initially faced a sentence of 10 years to life.