Drug Reform Orgs Call for No Marijuana Arrests During Coronavirus Outbreak

A letter signed by eight drug-law reform organizations asks law enforcement to suspend marijuana arrests and release those currently imprisoned on pot charges during the COVID-19 crisis.

The signees are NORML, Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), Last Prisoner Project, Doctors for Cannabis Regulation and Clergy for a New Drug Policy.

The letter is addresed to National District Attorneys Association, National Governors Association, National Sheriffs Association, National Association of Chiefs of Police, National Fraternal Order of Police, American Correctional Association, National Correctional Industries Association and the American Federation of State, City and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

The letter reads, in part:

"We are imploring you to curtail arrests for non-violent offenses, such as marijuana possession, cultivation and sale until the country is better able to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Similar actions have already been taken in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and nationally by U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement...

"Officers have wide discretion to merely provide warnings for minor offenses. We encourage broad use of this flexibility in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak...

"In addition to curtailing arrests, we are urging you to release cannabis offenders, along with dramatically reducing the number of incarcerated non-violent prisoners, whether sentenced or un-sentenced. By significantly reducing the number of inmates in local jails and prisons, you can ultimately reduce the risk of the coronavirus being spread amongst inmates, staff and the community...

"Many localities – including 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 with the understanding that infections in prisons and jails are rampant, and releasing inmates could save the lives of not only inmates but also the custodial, medical and safety staff that serve them."

Statements from Industry Leaders

Steve Hawkins, executive director at the Marijuana Policy Project: “There is no justification for arresting and jailiing 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.”

Justin Strekal, political director, NORML: “As individuals and families struggle to cope with the day-to-day challenges of the COVID-19 global pandemic, state and local governments continue to utilize precious resources and capacity to arrest, prosecute and incarcerate Americans for marijuana crimes."

Neill Franklin, executive director, Law Enforcement Action Partnership: “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.”

 Sarah Gersten, executive director and general counsel, Last Prisoner Project: “Our constituents, many of whom are over the age of 60 and have underlying health conditions, are imprisoned because of a plant that has now been deemed an ‘essential’ service by jurisdictions across the country during this time of crisis. Releasing cannabis prisoners now is not only the right thing to do from a justice perspective, but also from a public health perspective.”

Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.