In 2017, American police made a marijuana-related arrest every 48 seconds.
As states across the country continue to legalize cannabis for medical and recreational use, the spike in marijuana policing runs contrary to popular opinions about pot, which has recently seen federal politicians, local officials, and more than 60% of all Americans concede at least tacit support for the once-controversial plant.
"Actions by law enforcement run counter to both public support and basic morality," NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said in a press release responding to the FBI report. "In a day and age where twenty percent of the population lives in states which have legalized and nearly every state has some legal protections for medical cannabis or its extract, the time for lawmakers to end this senseless and cruel prohibition that ruins lives."
Outside of legal weed states with regulated retail markets, police departments in large urban hubs like New York City and Washington D.C. have moved to both decrease the number of marijuana arrests made by officers and stem the tide of simple pot charges brought by prosecutors by reducing penalties for possessing and smoking cannabis from a misdemeanor to a civil citation. In practice, though, police have already found loopholes to continue to persecute cannabis users, and significant statistical shifts are still yet to be seen.
Of the 659,700 marijuana-related arrests made last year, 599,282 were for possession, the lowest level pot charge, and only 60,418 for selling or manufacturing. Conversely, in 2016, police made 587,516 arrests for possession, and 65,734 arrests for selling or manufacturing. On a whole, marijuana-related crimes made up 40% of the country’s total drug arrests in 2017.
While America continues to grapple with an increasingly deadly opioid epidemic, cannabis advocates expressed frustration with the fact that cops continue to spend time locking up pot smokers for nothing more than carrying a dime bag in their pocket.
"At a time when more than 100 deaths per day are caused by opioid overdoses, it is foolish to focus our limited law enforcement resources on a drug that has caused literally zero [overdoses]," Don Murphy, federal policies director for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Forbes.
Still, despite the grim realities of American policing, the new set of FBI data did suggest that legalization efforts in states throughout the West Coast are working to curtail cannabis arrests, with only 17% of the region’s drug arrests involving pot, instead of 53% of all drug arrests in the Midwest and 49% in the South, where no states have legalized marijuana for adult-use.
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