FBI Reports Marijuana Arrests Are At Near-Record Levels

Despite growing acceptance of marijuana usage, pot-related arrests are booming as violent crimes increasingly go unsolved.
By @katierucke |
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    Just about every 48 seconds, someone in the U.S. is arrested on marijuana-related charges, according to a report released on Monday by the FBI. The report also found that more people were arrested for marijuana-related charges than those related to violent crimes.

    In its annual Uniform Crime Report for 2012, the FBI reported that despite a growing amount of support in the U.S. for the legalization of marijuana — which led to the passage of recreational marijuana legalization in two states, decriminalization in 15 states and legalization of medical marijuana in 20 states plus the District of Columbia — police arrested about 750,000 marijuana consumers, sellers and growers last year, a minor decrease from 2011.

    According to an analysis by 420RADIO News, seven out of eight marijuana-related arrests in the U.S. in 2012 that were deemed “drug abuse violations” were for possession. Marijuana arrests were also found to account for nearly half of all drug-related arrests that occurred last year.

    Most of the arrests occurred in the Midwest, a region that arguably has the nation’s harshest marijuana laws.The more pot-friendly West Coast had the lowest percent of busts for possession while the South had the lowest percentage of sales and manufacturing arrests. The Northeast fell in between the two extremes in both categories.

    Dan Riffle is the director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, the nation’s largest marijuana policy organization. He said,

    “Instead of punishing and stigmatizing responsible adult marijuana users, we should be focusing on serious crime. As a former prosecuting attorney myself, I believe it is irresponsible to squander our limited law enforcement resources on this disastrous public policy failure. That is especially true when so many violent crimes remain unsolved. Every second spent arresting and prosecuting adults for marijuana is time that could have been spent preventing and solving real crimes.

    “There is no greater waste of valuable taxpayer dollars than branding hundreds of thousands of otherwise law-abiding citizens as criminals simply for choosing to use a substance less harmful than alcohol. Given the fact that most Americans support taxing and regulating marijuana like alcohol, I suggest our police and prosecutors find a better use of their time.”

    City University of New York sociology professor and marijuana policy researcher Harry Levine agreed, saying the high rate of marijuana possession arrests amounts to a “national scandal.” He continued:.

    “The work of exposing these huge numbers of possession arrests has only just begun, but the facts are startling. In New York City for over 15 years more people have been arrested for marijuana possession than for any other criminal charge whatsoever. One arrest in eight is for simple possession of a small amount of marijuana. That general pattern is true for many other cities and counties.

    “Police arrest mostly young and low-income people for marijuana possession, 90 percent men, disproportionately young blacks and Latinos. In the last 15 years, police and sheriff’s departments in every major U.S. city and county have made over 10 million of these possession arrests. … Years of federal studies have found that young whites use marijuana at higher rates than young blacks or Latinos, but the young people of color are far more likely to be stopped, frisked and searched by police than young whites.”

    According to the FBI’s report, there were more arrests for marijuana possession than for the violent crimes of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault — 658,231 compared to 521,196 arrests.

    After the release of the report, members of the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) argued that the report furthered the argument that the focus on the ‘war on drugs’ has undermined public safety.

    Neill Franklin, the executive director of LEAP and formerly a police officer for 34 years, said,

    “These numbers represent a tremendous loss of human potential. Each one of those arrests is the story of someone who may suffer a variety of adverse effects from their interaction with the justice system.

    “Commit a murder or a robbery and the government will still give you a student loan,” he continued. “Get convicted for smoking a joint and you’re likely to lose it. This is supposed to help people get over their drug habit?”

    Retired lieutenant commander Diane Goldstein, another LEAP speaker, reiterated Franklin’s comments, saying, “Every time a police officer makes an arrest for drugs, that’s several hours out of his or her day not spent going after real criminals.

    In the report, the FBI also reported law enforcement’s success rate when it came to solving crimes and making arrests for violent crimes such as murder (62.5 percent), forcible rape (40.1 percent), robbery (28.1 percent), aggravated assault (55.8 percent) and others.

    “As the country has been investing more and more of its resources into prosecuting drug ‘crime,’ the rate of unsolved violent crime has been steadily increasing. Where are our priorities here?” she said.

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