California Reports Record Number of Marijuana Prisoners In Spite of Proposition 215

Other Drug Prisoners Also at Record Levels;

No Apparent Effect on Illegal Drug Use

May 2, 1998 Statement from California NORML

The number of marijuana prisoners in California has soared to record levels since passage of Prop. 215, according to a newly released report from the state Department of Corrections. The report, the first to cover the post-215 period, shows that there were a record 1,905 marijuana felons in state prison as of December 31, 1997, up over 10% from the previous year.

"This conclusively refutes the ludicrous claims of Attorney General Lungren's office that Prop. 215 has effectively legalized marijuana in California," comments California NORML coordinator Dale Gieringer, "In fact, medical marijuana users are a minor fraction of the user population, and even many of them are being arrested by overzealous narcotics cops in defiance of Prop. 215."

The Department of Corrections report also shows that the total number of all drug prisoners has reached an all-time high of 42,998 - a record 28% of the state's prison population. Of these, 17,747 are being held for simple possession - a startling 30% jump in just 18 months - accounting for a record 11.4% of the total prison population. Much of the rise is due to the state's Three Strikes law, which mandates long sentences for non-violent drug felonies by offenders with violent priors.

The report does not count drug offenders in county jail or federal prison.

While California now has five times as many drug prisoners as in 1986, this has had no evident effect on illegal drug use. According to the California Student Substance Use Survey, student drug use declined in the late 1980's, but has since rebounded to its previous levels, mounting steadily since 1990-1, when Attorney General Lungren and Governor Wilson took office.

"The lock-em-up drug policy of the past decade has completely failed," argues Gieringer, "California now has 20 times as many marijuana prisoners as in 1980, yet despite this, the popularity of marijuana is increasing. How many more Americans do our drug warriors propose to lock up at taxpayers' expense in this war with no light at the end of the tunnel? Californians would be better off to legalize marijuana and tax it than continue to pay the burden of an ineffectual prohibitionist policy."

This year marks the 85th anniversary of California's first law prohibiting cannabis. Since then usage has climbed from near-zero to several millions, and there have been over one million arrests. California NORML estimates the economic loss to the state from the laws against marijuana at over $100 billion.

Contact: Dale Gieringer, California NORML: (415) 563-5858; For the Department of Corrections report, "Characteristics of Population in California State Prisons by Institution," contact the Data Analysis Unit in Sacramento: (916) 323-8428; website.