The legalization of marijuana has been a hot topic in America for quite a while now. Go up to any person in a tie-dye shirt and they will all tell you the same thing: “Weed is harmless man. It’s from the Earth.” If stoners and scientists all agree that weed is virtually harmless, why is it still illegal while cigarettes and alcohol are not?
In 2015, there was a business that made $1.79 billion that you have likely never heard of. This private corporation has spent nearly $10 million lobbying congress since 2010 according to market research firm IBISWorld. The name of the company is CoreCivic, formerly known as the Corrections Corporation of America.
CoreCivic owns and manages private prisons throughout America. In order for CoreCivic, along with other private jail facilities, to not lose money they must keep jails full. Due to deals made with the state, if these jails are not full, the state will have to pay a fine. In 2015, a private prison in Arizona did not make their 97 percent capacity quota so the state government had to pay them $3 million.
So how do states make sure to avoid these fine? By locking up as many people as they possibly can. There are 2.2 million people incarcerated in the United States, which is ten times more than 50 years ago. But rather than locking up dangerous, violent criminals, law enforcers keep their quota up with much easier targets. According to the New York Times, in 2015, arrests for possessing small amounts of marijuana exceeded those for all violent crimes. A study conducted by the NYU School of law found that “since 2000, the effect on crime rate of increasing incarnation…has been essentially zero.”
Sure, it is a way to keep jail populations up now, but it must have initially became illegal because the government did not have the resources we do now to determine it is harmless, right? Actually, according to drugpolicy.org, in the early 1900’s while the Mexican Revolution began and many Mexican people immigrated to places like Texas and Louisiana, one of the parts of their culture that they brought with them was their use of cannabis. Since there were so many immigrants entering the U.S. at once, the government began to demonize the plant while making people associate it with Mexicans; by doing this it gave them an excuse to search, detain and deport these immigrants.
Fast-forward about 30 years, claims were made about “marijuana’s ability to cause men of color to become violent and solicit sex from white women”. Soon after these claims became widely believed, the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 became effective, which completely banned its use and sale. Things have not changed much since the 30’s as people of color are still much more likely to get arrested for marijuana possession. According to the American Civil Liberties Union’s website, in 2010, 52 percent of all drug arrests were for marijuana. While black and white people were found to use marijuana at the same rate, black people are four times more likely than white people to be arrested for possession.
In 1968, Richard Nixon’s former domestic policy chief, John Ehrlichman, spoke on the war on drugs with relation to black communities: “[By] criminalizing [drugs] heavily, we could disrupt those communities, we could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
The fact of the matter is, weed is only illegal because it is more profitable that way. These private corporations are spending millions every year to make sure Congress will allow them to stay profitable. According to Bustle.com, before marijuana was legal in the state of Washington, officers were only arresting around 159 citizens out of every 100,000 for marijuana charges. In Illinois, however, the cost of making marijuana legal would hurt their jail population as 1,669 out of 100,000 were arrested for weed possession charges.
Getting arrested can have serious, life altering effects on people. Aside from being pulled away from family and friends, having a criminal record can change the way that people in a profession setting view a person. People who have been put in jail have a much harder time getting a job, applying for loans, getting custody of their children and more.
The co-founder of CoreCivic once stated that you could, “sell prisons…just like hamburgers”. The only way for his multi-billion dollar company to remain profitable is to keep people in his facilities. The best way to do that is to take innocent people away from their lives.