The FBI just released its annual Crime in the United States report, detailing national crime data for 2015. According to the report, marijuana arrests are at a two decade low. This is definitely a good sign, but even one marijuana arrest is too many, and more than one marijuana arrest occurs every minute.
Huffington Post reports:
...authorities in the U.S. made 643,000 arrests for marijuana-related charges in 2015 ― or about one every 49 seconds. Charges related to the drug accounted for 5.9 percent of all arrests, and about 43.2 percent of all drug arrests.
The number of marijuana arrests has been generally decreasing since peaking in 2007. That year, police made 872,720 total arrests related to the drug, including 775,137 for possession. Just about 574,000 marijuana-related arrests in 2015 involved possession, and arrests for the sale and manufacture of the drug reached a nearly 25-year low.
Opponents to legalization often downplay the significance of marijuana arrests, arguing that they don’t lead to severe punishments and that a very small percentage of Americans wind up jailed for low-level marijuana offenses.
Yet a recent report from the Drug Policy Alliance found that getting arrested for marijuana can still significantly affect a person, even though marijuana-related penalties have been scaled back in many places over recent years.
“A marijuana arrest is no small matter,” reads the report, which also shows that most people arrested for marijuana are held in jail for a day or more. Many are also branded with a permanent criminal record, which can hurt their employment status and access to education and housing.
Additionally, a one-year HuffPost analysis of jail deaths found that several inmates arrested on a marijuana offense died behind bars.
Such arrests are also costly ― authorities spend approximately $3.6 billion annually enforcing laws against marijuana possession, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
With five states considering initiatives to regulate marijuana like alcohol in November, another three voting on medical marijuana initiatives, and lobbying efforts planned in dozens of states next year, we could start to see those numbers drop even more in the coming years. There is still much work to do.
Obama’s Nominee to Lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division Supports the Decriminalization of Marijuana
According to the Washington Post, President Obama plans to nominate top lawyer from the American Civil Liberties Union, Vanita Gupta, to head to the civil rights division of the Department of Justice.
Gupta is a longtime civil rights lawyer and deputy legal director of the ACLU, as well as the director of the Union’s Center for Justice.
She stated in a New York Times op-ed about ending mass incarceration:
“Those who seek a fairer criminal justice system, unclouded by racial bias, must at a minimum demand that the government eliminate mandatory minimum sentences, which tie judges’ hands; rescind three-strikes laws, which often make no distinction between, say, armed assault and auto theft; amend “truth in sentencing” statutes, which prohibit early release for good behavior; and recalibrate drug policies, starting with decriminalization of marijuana possession and investment in substance-abuse prevention and treatment.”
According to administration officials, Gupta will be appointed acting head of the civil rights division Wednesday by Attorney General Eric Holder.
A new poll jointly commissioned by MPP and the ACLU of Maryland shows that a majority of Marylanders support legalizing marijuana for adults and regulating it similarly to alcohol! If you live in Maryland, please let your legislators know that you are among the 53% of voters who believe adults should be allowed to use a substance that is objectively safer than alcohol.
In 2014, representatives in Annapolis will be considering several bills that propose a more sensible approach to marijuana policies. Voters are fully behind all of these reforms. In addition to showing majority support for making marijuana legal, our poll also found that 68% of Marylanders support a civil penalty for the simple possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. This is up 11 percentage points since our poll just two years ago!
Replacing jail time with a fine — or no penalty — would free up police, prosecutor, and court resources to focus on serious crimes. In 2011, there were 24,298 arrests in Maryland for marijuana, 90% of which were for mere possession! Legislators need to know what their constituents know – that is time to stop arresting adults for the possession of a substance that about half of all Americans have used.
On Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union officially announced its endorsement of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol in Colorado, which is currently collecting signatures to be on the ballot in 2012.
Among the reasons cited for the endorsement are the disproportionately high arrest rates of minorities for simple possession of marijuana and the unjustifiable expense of public funds.
According to a statement from the ACLU: “The war on drugs has failed. Prohibition is not a sensible way to deal with marijuana. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol will move us toward a more rational approach to drug laws."
Colorado currently represents the best chance of any of the states to end marijuana prohibition by taxing and regulating this relatively safe substance. We need all the help we can get to gather the signatures necessary to get this initiative on the ballot. If you want the chance to vote on a sensible marijuana policy for Colorado please volunteer or donate here. Even if you don’t live in Colorado, please consider helping out. Once one state begins to tax and regulate marijuana, it won’t be long before others follow suit.