ALESTLE VIEW: Nonviolent drug offenders should be released

In light of the recent legalization of recreational marijuana use in Illinois, individuals serving time for petty drug offenses should have their cases reexamined. 

Illinois became the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana use with a bill which will go into effect Jan. 1, 2020. The bill will allow individuals to purchase and possess up to 30 grams of marijuana for recreational use. 

Since the passage of this bill, many have begun to question what should be done in response to the mass incarceration issue within Illinois for drug offenses.

According to the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, 42% of arrests for drug offenses and 6.4% of drug admissions into prisons are related to cannabis. Based on population statistics, this indicates the yearly admission rate for cannabis offenses in the prison system is approximately 400 individuals.

Some states have decided to revisit the sentences given to nonviolent drug offenders — individuals who have consumed or possessed drugs but are not inherently violent.

Despite only having legalized the medical use of marijuana, Oklahoma released 462 nonviolent drug offenders. They also permitted offenders to have old felony charges expunged.

The release of offenders from Oklahoma prisons on Nov. 4, 2019 marks the largest mass commutation in U.S. history.

We should look to Oklahoma and their judiciary process for insight into bringing justice to prisoners in Illinois doing time for similarly nonviolent drug charges, especially considering the legalization of recreational cannabis use.

Beginning in 1971, the war on drugs has affected countless lives. The federal government has actively campaigned for drug prohibition in order to address the illegal drug trade in the U.S.

However, changes to the recreational use of marijuana should also elicit changes to the sentences of individuals for marijuana-related crimes.

Support politicians who advocate for the commutation of nonviolent drug charges. The student voice matters. Help speak on behalf of the people serving sentences for crimes which are now legal.

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