Society

More Arrests For Marijuana Use Than All Violent Crimes

| by Sarah Zimmerman
Marijuana under a magnifying glassMarijuana under a magnifying glass

According to a new study from the ACLU and Human Rights Watch, more arrests have been made for marijuana possession than arrests for all violent crimes combined. 

More than 137,000 men and women are behind bars for possessing small amounts of marijuana, The Washington Post reports. Those arrested may wait days or years in jail for a court date if they can't afford to post bail.

"It's been 45 years since the war on drugs was declared and it hasn't been a success," said lead author of the study, Tess Borden. "Rates of drug use are not down. Drug dependency has not stopped. Every 25 seconds, we're arresting someone for drug use." 

Marijuana use has consistently been on the rise, and many states have legalized it or decriminalized possession in small quantities. Still, these changes have done little to combat that overwhelmingly high arrest rate for marijuana users, with law enforcement agencies making 574,641 arrests for pot possession in the last year alone. 

Arrests involving marijuana possession were 13.6 percent higher than arrests for all violent crimes, including murder, rape and assault. 

"Around the country, police make more arrests for drug possession than for any other crime," Borden writes in the report. "More than one of every nine arrests by state law enforcement is for drug possession [of any type], amounting to more than 1.25 million arrests each year."

The intense police crackdown on drug possession disproportionately affects African Americans, with black adults being more than four times as likely to be arrested for possessing marijuana than their white counterparts. 

The report advocates for the complete decriminalization of possessing small quantities of illegal substances that are intended for recreational use. The authors claim the high arrest rate is overwhelming the court system and also wastes taxpayer money and the lives of those who spend years in prison for a nonviolent crime. Not only that, but the over-criminalization of drugs could also mean the unregulated drug trade becomes more dangerous, putting lives at risk in the process.  

"Rather than promoting health, criminalization can create new barriers to health for those who use drugs," the report says. "Criminalization drives drug use underground; it discourages access to emergency medicine, overdose prevention services, and risk-reducing practices such as syringe exchanges."

Sources: The Washington Post via The Times-Picayune, The New York Times / Photo credit: Tanjila Ahmed/Flickr

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