40,000-Plus Cannabis Prisoners in the U.S., LPP Confirms

Image via Last Prisoner Project

Are there really 40,000 cannabis prisoners in the U.S.? It's the generally accepted number promoted by Last Prisoner Project and other groups. 

"You’d think that’s an easy question to answer," Drug Policy Facts editor Doug McVay tells CelebStoner. "You’d be wrong."

McVay says that figure is based on old Justice Department stats dating back to 2004. He's deduced from the Survey of Inmates in State and Federal Correction facilities that a total of 42,251 people served time in state and federal prisons in 2004 (31,674 state, 10,577 federal). That's where the 40,000-plus prisoners number comes from.

"Fast forward to today and there are fewer sentenced people in state or federal prisons on drug charges these days," McVay explains. Using stats in the Jail Inmates in 2019 report, McVay notes that in 2018 there were 22,390 cannabis prisoners sentenced to state penitentiaries and 9,511 to federal facilities, adding up 31,901 prisoners, a 25% decline since 2004.


Last Prisoner Project Responds

The Last Prisoner Project refutes McVay's contention.

"We believe that this calculation dramatically undercounts the number of people currently incarcerated due to cannabis-related charges," executive director Sarah Gersten wrote in an email on March 1. 

She cited other prisoners not counted by the Bureau of Judicial Statistics, such as:

• people incarcerated in local and county jails;

• individuals currently incarcerated in our country's (1,700+) juvenile correctional facilities, Indian county jails, immigration detention centers, etc.;

• individuals incarcerated pre-trial and pre-sentencing;

• and individuals on supervised release who have been re-incarcerated due to a marijuana-related technical parole/probation violation.

Gersten concluded:

"Thus, since the true number of individuals incarcerated in the U.S. is actually likely higher than the 40,000 number, we choose to keep that number in our communications, but we try and make a point to explain why data gathering in this context is so difficult and caveat that 40,000 doesn't come close to calculating the nexus of individuals harmed by their interaction with the criminal legal system due to the criminalization of cannabis."

McVay replied: "You can still safely say there are more than 40,000 people in the U.S. who are incarcerated for marijuana. That includes people in jails as well as people in prisons."

Conclusion: 40,000-plus cannabis prisoners in the U.S. is correct, sadly. 

Image via change.org

Recent Canna-Prisoner Commutations and Pardons

Corvain Cooper and 11 Others - Jan. 20, 2021

• Andrew Cox - Jan. 6, 2021

• Michael Thompson - Dec. 22. 2020

• Fate Winslow - Dec. 16, 2020

• Weldon Angelos - Dec. 13, 2020

• Richard DeLisi - Dec. 8, 2020

• Anthony Bascaro - May 1, 2019


Become a Patron!



Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

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