Amid COVID-19 crisis, governments must free cannabis prisoners and stop arrests

Mar 26, 2020 arrests, cannabis prisoners, coronavirus, COVID-19, Criminal Justice, drug offenses, incarceration, inmates, jails, law enforcement officials, legalization, letter, medical cannabis, nonviolent offenses, pandemic, prisons, public health, public safety, safe access, staff


During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Marijuana Policy Project is continuing to fight for safe access to cannabis and policies to roll back the devastating war on marijuana.

Today, MPP — along with the Last Prisoner Project, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Clergy for a New Drug Policy, Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, National Cannabis Industry Association, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) — sent a letter urging law enforcement officials to dramatically curtail arrests for non-violent crimes, including ceasing arrests for cannabis offenses. In addition to curtailing arrests, we are also calling for officials to release or grant clemency to those incarcerated for cannabis offenses along with dramatically reducing the number of incarcerated non-violent prisoners, whether sentenced or un-sentenced.

Public health experts have warned that the coronavirus poses an extreme threat not only to inmates, but also to the staff that serve them, along with their families and communities. Conditions in prisons and jails are known to cause disease and infection to run rampant, and these institutions are already seeing a spike in confirmed COVID-19 cases. As a result, several localities have already begun to release inmates incarcerated for nonviolent, drug-related offenses.

Likewise, since asymptomatic individuals can spread the virus, any law enforcement-civilian interaction includes a risk of transmitting coronavirus to either party. Thus, arrests for nonviolent offenses should be curtailed until the country is better able to prevent the spread of the virus.

Meanwhile, last week, MPP and allied organizations sent letters urging governors and legislative leaders in states with medical cannabis and adult-use programs to take necessary actions to ensure continued safe access to cannabis in a way that is consistent with public health. We’re also tracking state-level measures being taken to preserve safe access as states rapidly respond to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

Sign our petition urging governors to ensure safe access to cannabis during the pandemic.

MPP will continue fighting for safe and sensible criminal justice and cannabis-related policies, both during and after the critical COVID-19 situation. There is no justification for arresting and jailiing individuals for marijuana offenses during this crisis, and our primary priority must now be reducing opportunities for transmission of the virus in order to save lives.

Sending best wishes for your health and safety.