The FBI released their annual Uniform Crime Report yesterday, and the results are anything but surprising. Across the country, people continue to be arrested for marijuana-related violations at an alarming rate, despite the steadily decreasing stigma associated with it and increasing efforts at reforming our irrational marijuana laws. And guess what? It still isn’t working. Our esteemed leaders claim otherwise, even while admitting that they need to change their tactics!
Over the past year, the Obama administration stated that the “war on drugs” is over, and that the government was going to shift its focus away from law enforcement and interdiction and instead put more effort toward public health and education with regard to drugs. At a press conference just last week, Office of National Drug Control Policy director Gil Kerlikowske stated that we cannot arrest our way out of the drug problem.
If these statements are true, then how do they justify the arrests of more than 853,000 people for marijuana-related violations in 2010? That’s one person arrested every 19 seconds! The Drug Czar maintains that law enforcement protocols are still considered a useful tool for eliminating suppliers and dealers as a way to decrease overall use.
Okay, that seems like it makes sense. So how many of those 853,000 arrests were for sale or manufacture of marijuana? The answer is just over 103,000. That means that more than 750,000 people were arrested last year for simple possession! A remarkably small number of people who may have distributed marijuana were arrested last year, along with three quarters of a million simple users, in an effort to curb marijuana use nationwide.
Were those people “useful tools” in preventing marijuana use? Absolutely not. According to the government’s own data, marijuana use actually increased last year.
Now, we’ve seen that Kerlikowske is correct when he says that we can’t arrest our way out of this “problem.” We can see that arresting people for marijuana, even for marijuana sales, has no effect on marijuana use rates. This glaringly obvious fact makes such statements from the federal government even more confusing, given their continued trend of upholding the status quo at all costs.
Let’s look at some slightly more disturbing aspects of this report.
Arrests for simple marijuana possession accounted for 5.7% of all arrests in 2010! That is a significant percentage of our law enforcement efforts devoted to punishing people for a victimless crime. It seems that there are better ways to use those resources, especially considering that there were more arrests for marijuana possession than for all violent crimes. How many violent acts occurred last year that did not result in an arrest? How many rapes and murders went unsolved due to lack of funds or personnel?
The Obama administration has repeatedly claimed that we need to rethink our approach to drug problems. If it really means this, it needs to seriously consider the most obvious starting point: taxing and regulating marijuana for adults. It is time we stop spending billions of dollars ruining people’s lives in a vain attempt to prevent them from using a plant that humans have used safely for thousands of years.
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