Seeing a dramatic rise in the number of prison inmates and police officers afflicted by Covid-19, several agencies have come forward to seek relaxation of laws for non-violent offenses like cannabis consumption.
The Marijuana Policy Project, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Last Prisoner Project, Clergy for a New Drug Policy, National Cannabis Industry Association, Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) have jointly sent a letter to the National District Attorneys Association, National Governors Association, National Sheriffs’ Association, National Association of Chiefs of Police, National Correctional Industries Association, American Correctional Association, and AFSCME.
Besides reducing the number of arrests for cannabis possession or consumption, the organizations have also asked officials to release or grant clemency to those already in prison for cannabis offenses that are of non-violent or light nature. This is to help curb the spread of the fatal outbreak of Covid-19 across American cities.
Steve Hawkins, executive director at the Marijuana Policy Project, said earlier, “There is no justification for arresting and jailing individuals for marijuana offenses during this crisis. It is in the best interest of law enforcement and the greater population to cease marijuana arrests and reduce arrests for non-violent crimes. It is also vital for individuals who are incarcerated for cannabis offenses to be released or granted clemency in order to prevent a potentially disastrous and deathly situation.”
New York is the new epicenter of the deadly virus and after wreaking havoc in China and Europe, it has already claimed more than 1,000 lives in New York alone. Other American cities are not immune to it either, with more than 4,000 fatalities across the nation.
The list of patients, which stands staggeringly close to 200,000, includes medical staff and law enforcement officers as well. According to New York’s Police Commissioner, more than 200 NYPD members have been infected with the coronavirus and nearly 3,000 officers are out sick.
The more individuals incarcerated, the greater the likelihood and possible scope of a related outbreak. Significantly reducing the number of inmates is a necessary step to ensuring public health in the face of this crisis.https://t.co/lfZtHWbiLY
— Marijuana Policy Project (@MarijuanaPolicy) March 31, 2020
Covid-19 scares Law Officials
Public health experts have expressed concerns that the coronavirus could be especially lethal inside prisons due to the living conditions. The threat is not only for inmates but also for officers who can be unknowing carriers of the virus, but also their families and communities.
Small cells are shared among multiple prisoners; common areas are often crowded, and hygiene is not of the highest standards. All of these are conducive to the breeding and spread of any contagious disease.
New York already has reported positive cases of 50 inmates and 30 prison staff. Although all measures are being taken to quarantine and isolate people who have come in contact with these cases, it is quite impossible to trace everyone who might have taken on the infection from them.
Adding to this worry is the fact that some inmates might be asymptomatic and might unknowingly pass on the disease to someone much more vulnerable.
Positive Covid-19 cases have also been reported in California, Massachusetts, Louisiana, Missouri, South Dakota, Michigan, and Texas. Prison employees have tested positive in Alabama, Florida, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Illinois, Vermont, and Washington.
Some areas like Baltimore; Suffolk County, Massachusetts; Cuyahoga County, Ohio; New Jersey; Los Angeles; and New York City, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons have already begun to release inmates incarcerated for non-violent, drug-related offenses.
Police Major Neill Franklin (Ret.), executive director at the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, said, “COVID-19 is forcing us to seriously consider what constitutes a genuine public safety threat. Criminalizing people for marijuana has always been a waste of time and resources; now it’s also unnecessarily endangering lives by exposing more people to the crowded and unsanitary conditions of our jails and prisons.”
It is important to note that some states where cannabis has been legalized has gone ahead to include it in the list of essential services. Cannabis experts are also trying to ascertain if THC or CBD can have any specific effect on Covid-19 patients.
The agencies that have sought for curtailing cannabis arrests feel that imprisoning people for marijuana is not priority right now and is not in the best interest of public health safety.