Despite the fact that marijuana has been made legal in some form or fashion in over half the United States, law enforcement agencies are still busting more people for weed than the combination of aggravated assaults, rapes, murders and all other violent crime.
According to the latest FBI crime data, which was made public on Monday, cops stepped up to serve and protect civil society last year by hauling 653,249 people to jail for violations related to marijuana. Interestingly, the majority of these arrests were not for people connected to hard-core drug smuggling rings, but for average citizens caught up in the throes of antiquated prohibition laws. Ninety percent of the marijuana arrests in 2016 (587,516) were for pot possession alone, the report shows.
This means at least one person per minute is being arrested in the United States for simply holding a little weed.
To makes matters worse, the new FBI Uniform Crime Report shows that marijuana arrests in 2016 increased from the previous year. That’s right – even while voters in the states of California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts were casting ballots in favor of marijuana legalization, police forces were apparently ramping up efforts to put more pot offenders behind bars.
“The recent uptick in the number of marijuana arrests is unprecedented in recent years, especially given the rate of state-level reform we have seen,” said NORML Political Director Justin Strekal.
Although there has been much discussion in recent years about evolving policies that would allow some drug-related crimes to be handled as public health issues instead of criminal offenses, that did not stop a whopping 1.5 million people from being given the opportunity to see the inside of a jail cell in 2016.
Reports show that drug arrests, all across the board, were up last year from the previous 12 months, showing that the much talked about progression in the arena of drug reform is still just mostly talk.
“Criminalizing drug use has devastated families across the US, particularly in communities of color, and for no good reason,” Maria McFarland Sánchez Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, told the Washington Post. “Far from helping people who are struggling with addiction, the threat of arrest often keeps them from accessing health services and increases the risk of overdose or other harms.”
In an effort to put a leash on the opioid epidemic, the Trump administration has taken steps to rejuvenate the War on Drugs – pushing for harsher sentences and even threatening to take down legal marijuana. But the federal government has so far refused to take a look at other countries that have remedied their drug problem without increasing incarceration.
In 2001, Portugal decriminalized the simple possession of all illegal drugs. This means anyone caught with small amounts of illicit substances from marijuana to heroin is not entered into the criminal justice system. Instead, these people are given the opportunity to enter into treatment, as well as other options that keep non-violent offenders out of jail. The country now appreciates one of the lowest drug overdose rates in the world.
But Attorney General Jeff Sessions would rather take a diffident approach. The leading law enforcement hammer believes the answer to the nation’s drug problem is to once again starting preaching the value of “Just Say No.”
"I think we have too much of a tolerance for drug use ─ psychologically, politically, morally," Sessions said, earlier this year. "We need to say, as Nancy Reagan said, ‘Just say no.’"
While the issue of marijuana reform seems to be gaining traction all across the country, it is important to remember that most of the nation is still being harmed by prohibition laws.
It is for this reason that it is more important than ever for Congress to finally get truly involved. Until that happens, it is highly likely that we will continue to see data showing hundreds of thousands of arrests each year for a substance that is scientifically proven to be safer than alcohol and tobacco.