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States Get Millions of Dollars for Marijuana Arrests, Oppose Medical Legalization

A new report revealed that state and local police departments make low-level drug arrests, such as marijuana possession, to get millions in funding from the federal government.

This little-known funding channel is called the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, which awards federal money to state and local police who are willing to join the failed and never-ending "War on Drugs."

“This money has helped reshape policing strategies and policies in major cities and a lot of rural areas throughout the United States,” Harry Levine, a sociologist at Queens College, CUNY, told

“Although the government claims [Byrne grant money] goes toward apprehending high level traffickers, it’s often very low level people who get arrested," added Levine. "It targets low-income people and people of color much more than anyone understands."

The Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, which began under President Reagan in 1988, was funded with $2 billion from President Obama's stimulus package in 2009 that was supposed to help local economies recover from the Wall Street crash in late 2008.

States have to impress the U.S. government to get their Byrne grant funding, which means showing a high number of arrests and large amounts of drugs seized. According to state documents published by, states are going after marijuana offenders because they are an easy catch and push the states' numbers up.

“With Byrne grant money, the police can buy all kinds of stuff, police cars, bullet proof vests, computers, bullets, buy whatever they want,” added Levine.

Minnesota state Rep. Carly Melin has been trying to get support for a bill that would legalize medical marijuana in her state, but is running into strong opposition from police departments that do not want to lose their precious share of Byrne grant funding.

“It’s like negotiating with a brick wall," Melin told in February. "All along I have said that I am willing to amend the bill, but they won’t move at all. They wouldn’t discuss any specific provisions and said they had a blanket opposition to medical marijuana."

While police departments will not admit in public that they fear losing Byrne grant funding, Melin believes that is the likely the source of their opposition.

“I don’t think it’s part of the debate because they wouldn’t publicly admit that it’s even an issue,” stated Melin. “Nobody wants to question the motives or honesty of law enforcement. It's pretty obvious that something else is going on here.”



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