According to recently released statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), marijuana arrests reached an all-time high last year.
This news comes despite a rise in violent crime for the second consecutive year. Yet, last year alone, 829,625 Americans were charged with marijuana offenses according to the recently released FBI Uniform Crime Statistics. Eighty-nine percent of those charges were merely for simple possession.
This begs the question: shouldn’t law enforcement focus on the rising violent crime rate instead of wasting precious resources and manpower going after people for marijuana?
Close to 100 million Americans—including more than half of those between the ages of 18 and 50—have tried marijuana at least once. Military and police recruiters often have no choice but to ignore past marijuana use by job seekers. In fact, the FBI recently announced it is changing its policy of not hiring people with a history of marijuana or other illegal drug use because the policy disqualifies so many people the agency cannot fill needed positions.
Marijuana prohibition is unique among American criminal laws. No other law is both enforced so widely and harshly and yet deemed unnecessary by such a substantial portion of the populace. Millions of Americans have never been arrested or convicted of any criminal offense except this. Enforcing marijuana laws costs an estimated $10-15 billion in direct costs alone.
Punishments range widely across the country, from modest fines to a few days in jail to many years in prison. Prosecutors often contend that no one goes to prison for simple possession—but tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of people on probation and parole are locked up each year because their urine tested positive for marijuana or because they were picked up in possession of a joint. Alabama currently locks up people convicted three times of marijuana possession for 15 years to life. There are probably— no firm estimates exist—100,000 Americans behind bars tonight for one marijuana offense or another. And even for those who don’t lose their freedom, simply being arrested can be traumatic and costly. A parent’s marijuana use can be the basis for taking away her children and putting them in foster care. Foreign-born residents of the U.S. can be deported for a marijuana offense no matter how long they have lived in this country, no matter if their children are U.S. citizens, and no matter how long they have been legally employed. More than half the states revoke or suspend driver’s licenses of people arrested for marijuana possession even though they were not driving at the time of arrest.
With violent crime on the rise, arresting marijuana users at such alarming rates does nothing to make Americans feel safer.
Drug Policy News