With daily headlines featuring new innovations in cannabis technology, business and culture, it can be easy to forget the cold truth that marijuana is still very much an illegal drug in most of the country. People are still getting arrested and going to prison for simple cannabis possession in striking numbers.
The battle for cannabis legalization has not been won yet
The Federal Bureau of Investigations released its latest national arrest data today, which shows at least 700,993 people were arrested for marijuana in the United States in 2014 – that’s one every 45 seconds.
More than 88 percent of those arrests were for marijuana possession alone.
Drug crimes made up the largest portion of all U.S. arrests in 2014, and nearly 50 percent of those drug arrests were for marijuana.
“It’s unacceptable that police still put this many people in handcuffs for something that a growing majority of Americans think should be legal,” drug policy activist and founder of Marijuana Majority, Tom Angell said in a statement. “A record number of states are expected to vote on legalizing marijuana next year, so we hope and expect to see these numbers significantly dropping soon.”
Pot arrests increased last year, despite state legalization
2014 was the first year cannabis became legal for recreational use in both Washington and Colorado, which lead to steep declines in pot arrests in those states.
Still, the country’s overall rate of marijuana arrests rose from 693,482 arrests in 2013 to 700,993 in 2014.
Those numbers are down from a peak of 847,863 marijuana arrests in 2007, but they are way up compared with pot arrests every year prior to 1999, according to data compiled by Drug War Facts. Marijuana arrests have more than doubled since 1990.
For reference, 588,964 people were arrested for marijuana in 1995 in the U.S. In 1990, that number was 326,850 marijuana arrests.
Meanwhile, most violent crimes go unsolved
It’s curious that the U.S. government is still pushing the War on Drugs as some sort of public safety measure, while violent crime and low clearance rates plague every major city in America.
According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, just 64.5 percent of murder and manslaughter cases were solved in 2014. The same year, approximately 56 percent of aggravated assaults, 39 percent of rapes and 30 percent of robberies were solved.
Despite that, and despite the massive budget defects looming over state and federal governments, the U.S. continues funding a War on Drugs that costs taxpayers an estimated $41.3 billion each year.
“There’s just no good reason that so much police time and taxpayer money is spent punishing people for marijuana when so many murders, rapes and robberies go unsolved,” Angell said.
This police group wants cannabis legalized in Florida
Ray Strack worked as a U.S. Customs special agent on JFK International Airport’s drug squad in New York for 27 years before joining the fight to legalize drugs, according to the Broward Palm Beach New Times.
On the job, he “constantly busted people” who were trying to smuggle narcotics into the country. But now, as a spokesperson for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), Strack is part of the movement of police officers and government officials who are speaking out and trying to change what they see as the county’s failed War on Drugs.
“During all this time fighting the so-called war on drugs, nobody looked at what our nation’s drug policies have cost us,” Strack said.
The War on Drugs has sent too many people to prison, destroyed too many families, cost too much taxpayer money and done too little to decrease drug use, according to LEAP. It’s a failed policy.
Not all police are on board with marijuana legalization however. While LEAP works to end prohibition in Florida, groups like The Florida Sheriff’s Association — also made up of law enforcement agents — are still fighting to maintain the status quo.