Reminder: the war on drugs is still in full effect.
It may be easy to forget with more and more states turning to legalized recreational and medical marijuana. It can get lost when we hear so many government officials responding to the opioid crisis with calls for compassionate treatment instead of harsh punishments.
But it is happening nonetheless.
Although felt daily in communities across the country, this fact only seems to break into the general consciousness every now and then. A reminder came earlier this week when the FBI released new crime statistics showing a 1.6 percent increase in marijuana-related arrests in 2016 compared to 2015.
The figures represent a change in the overall trend, with marijuana related arrests declining steadily since 2008, and even hitting a two-decade low in 2015. But the numbers still show over 650,000 arrests made in an endless pursuit to rid the country of a non-lethal drug.
To put everything in perspective, the FBI says, “Nationwide, law enforcement made an estimated 10,662,252 arrests in 2016. Of these arrests, 515,151 were for violent crimes, and 1,353,283 were for property crimes.”
So police arrested more people for marijuana than they did all violent crimes combined.
Again for the people in the back: at a time when more states are legalizing marijuana because they no longer consider it a crime, we are still arresting more marijuana users than violent offenders. To be clear, this country would be thrown into sheer chaos if people committed violent crimes at the same rates they use marijuana. So the fact that arrests for those crimes are lower can be seen as a positive sign in at least one regard.
But the statistics still speak to how law enforcement agencies use our tax dollars and where their priorities lie. It’s a question of resources, both in terms of time and money. In 2013, the American Civil Liberties Union found that marijuana arrests cost taxpayers around $3.6 billion in 2010 alone.
How much better could society function if that same $3.6 billion were used to combat property crimes and violent crimes? Or better yet, diverted to other social programs that look to curb recidivism and lower crime rates in the first place? We as citizens have a right to know and decide how our tax money is spent, and if marijuana is a problem, how many people consider it a $3.6 billion problem?
While it’s unclear what caused the uptick in arrests, the fact is they’re still happening. Prevailing attitudes towards marijuana have been changing for years, and in all likelihood they will continue to change as the country as a whole takes a more relaxed attitude toward the drug. Yet every day people are being arrested and forced to pay the penalty for something that may not even be a crime a few miles away. However this news moves you, remember, the war on drugs is far from over.