One of the major problems with cannabis prohibition is that it makes other parts of society function sub-optimally. In the same way that prohibition makes policing more difficult, and makes a mockery of the justice system, it also makes a mockery of the prison system. This article looks at the argument for cannabis law reform from the point of view of the prison system.
The prison system, in practice, serves a wide variety of objectives. Ideally speaking, however, it needs to fulfill one primary and one secondary objective. The primary objective is to keep society safe from the predations of criminals. The secondary objective is to rehabilitate those criminals so that they don’t come back.
Cannabis prohibition is in direct conflict with this primary objective. The idea of keeping society safe from someone who grew a medicinal flower doesn’t make any sense, because growing medicinal flowers helps people and doesn’t harm them. In fact, doing so makes society more dangerous, for a number of reasons.
The most obvious harm is caused by taking a person who probably wasn’t malicious (a cannabis user), and putting them in close contact with genuinely dangerous people, who are apt to teach that cannabis user how to become dangerous themselves. Prisons serve as a university of crime, because crime is the one thing that anyone in a prison can count on having in common with other people in a prison.
There’s no overall benefit to putting someone who has grown a cannabis plant in prison with people who are going to teach him how to manufacture methamphetamine, or to embezzle, or to commit other serious crimes. The end result will only be an actual criminal. From the perspective of harm reduction, it’s counter-productive to take a person who wasn’t harming anyone and turn them into a person who does harm people. It’s madness.
Even worse is the harm done to the families of the people incarcerated for cannabis offences. The stress on the partner or parent of someone imprisoned is great, and lasts for at least the time of the sentence. Perhaps the worst of all is the damage done to the children, who, after seeing one of their family members locked up for nothing, inevitably come to see the state as their enemy.
One other consideration is that a person sentenced to prison for a cannabis offence may become embittered. Getting locked in a cage like an animal for an action that caused no harm is not the sort of thing can easily be forgiven. It’s the sort of thing that a person tends to resent for the rest of their lives, making them a nastier person. Everyone loses from this.
In the context of cannabis prohibition, the concept of rehabilitation – the second major objective of the prison system – doesn’t make any sense either.
The idea of rehabilitation involves convincing a criminal that their previous actions caused unwarranted suffering to innocent people, should not have been done, and should not be repeated. If a criminal can learn this, then they can be released into the community and be expected to not commit that crime again. As a result, the community becomes safer.
In the case of a cannabis offence, however, what’s to rehabilitate? How can one go about “rehabilitating” a person who hasn’t caused any harm to anyone? The fact is that it’s all but impossible to convince a normal person that they are a criminal on account of cannabis. It’s impossible to appeal to the harm caused, unlike a genuine crime, because there isn’t any.
Many people who are in prison for cannabis offences grew cannabis to meet other people’s medicinal needs. These people are the opposite of criminals – they are heroes. Although they might not be seen as such by the “Justice” System, they are certainly heroes in the eyes of the people with medical conditions who couldn’t otherwise access an effective medicine.
Every honest person knows that the cannabis laws are an example of illegitimate, unjust dictates, and therefore there’s no “rehabilitating” a person who defies them. The laws make our prison system into a sham by putting non-harmful people there. This causes harm to everyone related to the cannabis user, as well as harm to the average person’s faith in authority.
Legalising cannabis would return our prison system to its primary objective of keeping people free from harm. This would mean that our prisons were only populated by those willing to harm others, and not medicinal flower growers. This would not only make the prison system more effective, but also less cruel.
This article is an excerpt from The Case For Cannabis Law Reform, compiled by Vince McLeod and due for release by VJM Publishing in the summer of 2018/19.