Left-Wing Psychiatrist Refutes Common Claim That Our Prisons are Stuffed With Harmless Pot Smokers

Only 400 inmates nationwide are incarcerated for smoking pot, and even those are mostly due to pleading down to a lesser offense.

By Rachel Alexander Published on May 2, 2016

Are masses of harmless Americans being locked up for simple drug possession, even just marijuana possession? This is a favorite talking point of many liberals pushing for sentencing reform, and even of libertarian Republicans such as Rand Paul. I have argued that this isn’t the case, but I’m a red meat conservative. What do I know? Enter card-carrying leftist Ed Gogek.

Gogek, an addiction psychiatrist and author of Marijuana Debunked, begins his column in the Arizona Capital Times by noting, “I’m a lifelong liberal. I voted for George McGovern, Ted Kennedy, Jerry Brown, and more recently Al Gore, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. I marched with Occupy, support the Sierra Club, and laughed when Jon Stewart exposed the bias on Fox News.” He then reinforces what I have written: “According to research published in Contemporary Drug Problems, only one-half of 1 percent of the U.S. prison population is locked up solely for drug possession. For marijuana, it’s one half of one-tenth of 1 percent — about 400 inmates nationwide. And those numbers are probably high because drug possession is often the lesser charge in a plea deal.”

As a former prosecutor, I agree that we have too many criminal laws, needlessly locking up non-violent offenders, which merely adds to the nation’s debt. Many of these expanding laws are being abused by politically motivated prosecutors to target those they don’t like — particularly elected Republican officials, since the legal system is primarily dominated by the left. Famed attorney Harvey Silverglate has written a book about how bad it’s become, Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent.

But where I have a problem, is when the left and even libertarian-leaning conservatives claim we are locking people up merely for possessing or smoking marijuana. It’s just not true, and I’ve written about this, explained why this myth persists, and why it needs to be put to rest. The vast majority of people who are serving time for drug possession were merely allowed to plead down to it as a lesser charge, in order to avoid a more serious charge of theft, drug dealing, etc.

As a prosecutor, I worked with police officers and detectives. They are generally instructed to ignore simple marijuana use because there are only so many officers available to combat crime. Claiming people are being arrested in mass numbers for simple marijuana use is a favorite talking point of those pushing for sentencing reform, but it doesn’t mesh with the reality on the ground.

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