How cannabis could help to make jails safer

Published Jan 22, 2021 02:00 p.m. ET
iStock / txking

If you were to find yourself in jail, you’d see that while it’s not quite like the media portrays, it’s also no walk in the park. Of course, it shouldn’t be. After all, everyone serving time there has no choice in the matter, as they’ve all been charged for some sort of criminal offense. In the view of some, these are offenders of the law, which means that they should all suffer for their “sins,” but this can be a truly dangerous place, and that can make any kind of rehabilitation difficult.

Jail isn’t supposed to be a getaway or vacation from reality where you live in the lap of luxury for a specified period of time, but we want the people who are there to come out better than they were when they first arrived, and that’s going to be a challenge if those who need to spend time there are fearing for their lives. There are many dangers that hide behind the walls of any jail, but there are a specific few that might be reduced with the help of cannabis.

Drug addiction

As you can probably imagine, many who end up in jail aren’t exactly following the best path in life. Many times, they are admitted with drug addiction, a condition that is treated with next to nothing in prison systems, and this forces them to turn to other illicit activities in an attempt to feel well again. Smuggled drugs of all sorts make their way into prisons, with opiates and mixed street drugs being the most popular choices, and these drugs come with a heft amount of risks like overdosing.

Sometimes, incarcerated individuals don’t develop the addiction until they’re already behind bars, but regardless of where it begins, the results aren’t pretty. Imagine going through withdrawals all alone in a prison cell, and then think about how desperate you might be for relief when proper medical care is nowhere to be found. You might just take anything, and that brings us to the common issue of overdosing, which kills hundreds of individuals in jails every single year.

Cannabis, in many cases, might only work as a replacement for other drugs, so it would need to be allowed to work, but we know that it can provide relief from a host of symptoms that often go along with drug addiction. Sometimes the green alone can offer enough benefit to keep a drug-addicted felon away from all other drugs. Even when it’s not, it could be enough to make the transition from drug-fueled to sober living much more tolerable.

Tobacco replacement

All jails in Canada have gone smoke-free, and many others around the world are looking at joining the movement. It seems like a good idea at first if your only consideration is the long-term health of the incarcerated, but suddenly taking cigarettes away from someone who is likely going through one of the most stressful and frustrating times in their life isn’t going to help anyone right now. Security guards, other inmates, and pretty much anyone else who might come into contact with a nicotine withdrawing prisoner is going to see a noticeable increase in agitation over time.

It might be good for their health, but addiction doesn’t go away by simply placing someone inside of the confines of a jail cell. It’s a cold a cruel way to begin on what is supposed to be a new path towards a better future, and it’s totally unnecessary now that cannabis is legal. Even in edible form, cannabis can help to significantly reduce many of the symptoms of withdrawal, which can help to make prisoners who are being forced to quit and pretty much everyone around them calmer and more comfortable.

Reducing violence


We want to start by saying that there are millions of people in jail right now who would never hurt anyone, as it doesn’t take a violent crime to get locked up, but these places do see much higher rates of violence than the general population. Some speculate the cause to be fear, while others lean towards the belief that all those in jail are genuinely bad people, but the truth is that this is not a good situation, even for the best people in the world to go through.

High tension, stress, fear, withdrawal symptoms, and a brand-new uncomfortable space that you can never leave is bound to make anyone feel on edge. No matter what group you look at, young, old, criminal, or otherwise, higher levels of stress will lead to more arguments and a significantly higher rate of violence. Be it among prisoners or towards staff, the danger is real, but the blunt reality of all of this can be reduced with the help of a little calm in the form of green.

Mental health

Not everyone in jail suffers from mental health problems, but some estimates place that number as high as between 30%-50%, and that’s an incredibly high number. These people might suffer from anxiety attacks, PTSD, schizophrenia, OCD, or a number of other mental health issues, many of which often go untreated or are improperly assessed in jail. Cannabis certainly isn’t the solution for all mental health problems, but we do know that it can help to treat a number of the most common symptoms that go along with these conditions, and that’s an excellent start.

Prisoners are self-medicating anyway

You might be wondering why we would want to supply or allow cannabis for prisoners in jails, but the reality is that they’re already trying to self-medicate, and they aren’t having a whole lot of success in doing so. Many will turn illicit drugs or substances that are smuggled in to numb the pain of their situation, and it only feeds into the issues so many are already facing. If they’re going to get stoned off of meth or heroin, then why not offer a safer alternative that isn’t going to cost anyone a life?

It might seem radical, unusual, or even downright unbelievable, but cannabis could help to make jails a safer place by treating some of the common issues that can be seen within our prison systems and those who end up spending time in them, which makes this a possibility that we truly should consider.

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