Marijuana is slowly gaining legality across the nation, yet non-violent drug offenders continue to fill US prisons. President Obama hopes to change that.
The move toward legal marijuana has had a lot of positive impacts. In states that have taken the plunge the tax revenue has jumped (Washington just raked in $70 million from its first year), incarceration is down, and the attitudes from the public regarding marijuana has never been more positive. There is a movement within the United States that prison sentences for non-violent drug offenders have been to harsh, and that perhaps it’s time to declare a truce in the war on drugs.
To judge from a recent announcement, it seems President Obama is one of the people who feel this way.
The Power of The Pen
While the president is the nation’s commander-in-chief, the office also grants the power of clemency over any federal prisoner – with the stroke of his pen the president can commute the sentence of any prisoner in the federal system, granting them a pardon. President Obama intends to use this power liberally, and according to the New York Times, his administration put out a call for those currently serving sentences for non-violent drug offenses to put applications forward.
What The President Hopes to Accomplish
While President Obama will only sign a fraction of the more than 30,000 applications that were put forth at his request (since every application requires a review in order to find prisoners who are the most deserving of clemency), the goal is to make a statement: the criminal justice system needs to be fixed, and that the decades of tough-on-crime attitude and draconian sentencing regarding non-violent drug crimes needs to be reversed. Not only that, but the inherent disparity in how drug offenses fall on African-American and Hispanic persons needs to be corrected in order for the system to be viewed as a tool of justice, instead of an instrument of punishment.
As marijuana becomes legal in individual states across the nation, only time will tell how the federal government will react. It is still an illegal substance federally, but President Obama’s actions appear to demonstrate a willingness to adapt to the will of the voters.
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