Marijuana Prisoners

Drug Policy Question of the Week – 12-19-11

As answered by Mary Jane Borden, Editor of Drug War Facts for the Drug Truth Network on 12-19-11.

Question of the Week: How many people are in prison for marijuana?

Aficionados will recall that there are important statistics in drug policy that must be computed. These include the number of marijuana arrests and the number of people behind bars for marijuana offenses.

To calculate the number of “marijuana prisoners,” two reports are necessary.

Report #1 is “Prisoners in 2004,” from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Table 1, page 2. Find these numbers:

Total Federal Prisoners in 2004 =  170,535

Total State Prisoners in 2004 =  1,244,311

Report #2 is, “Drug Use and Dependence, State and Federal Prisoners, 2004,” again from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, page. 4. Find these numbers:

Percent of federal prisoners held for drug law violations in 2004 = 55%

Percent of state prisoners held for drug law violations in 2004 = 21%

Marijuana/hashish, Percent of federal drug offenders, 2004 = 12.4%

Marijuana/hashish, Percent of state drug offenders, 2004 = 12.7%

Now, do the math,

Multiply total prisoners times the percent of prisoners held for drug law violations. Then multiply this product times the percentage of marijuana offenders. The result is:

Federal marijuana prisoners, 2004 = 11,630

State marijuana prisoners, 2004 = 33,186

Total federal and state marijuana prisoners in 2004 = 44,816

Thus, those in prison for marijuana offenses represent about 12.6% of those incarcerated for drug law violations and 3.2% of total state and federal prisoners. It should be noted that these numbers exclude those among the 700,000+ inmates who may be in local jail because of a marijuana arrest.

These facts and others like them can be found in the Prisons and Drugs Chapter of Drug War Facts at