In 2015, cannabis arrests had dropped to the lowest they had been since the 90s. Unfortunately, that declining trend did not continue in 2016, as new data from the FBI illustrates. In 2016, there were a total of 653,000 people who were arrested on marijuana charges – and though it was not specific in the types of charges, over the years possession charges have generally made up 85-90% of marijuana related arrests, with 40% making up possession of insignificant amounts of the herb.
While this is still a decline since the peak in 2007 – when there were 800,000 cannabis related-arrests – it is still a concerning uptick in arrests. For all drugs, the number of arrests increased 5.63% in 2015 and 12% in 2016, with a total of 1.57 million being arrested on drug charges. This is three times the number of people who were arrested for violent crimes, burglaries and even DUIs.
“Criminalizing drug use has devastated families across the US, particularly in communities of color, and for no good reason,” said Maria McFarland Sánchez Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, in a statement. “Far from helping people who are struggling with addiction, the threat of arrest often keeps them from accessing health services and increases the risk of overdose or other harms.”
In a time when cannabis use is increasingly accepted and legalization is increasingly supported, it is disappointing to see the number of arrests start to increase once again. This, however, may be connected to the Trump Administration’s stance on cannabis laws, which includes the appointment of drug-war era minded Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Since taking office as the AG, Sessions has reinstated mandatory minimum sentences for multiple drug offenses, set a task force to review current marijuana policies, and has been more outspoken than ever about his disapproval of state-level legalization laws for both medicinal and recreational cannabis.
“It’s really shocking in this era that these numbers are so high,” said Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, executive director of Drug Policy Alliance. “It really makes you question why law enforcement is wasting resources and locking people up for personal use of marijuana.”
Criminalization of cannabis and other illegal drugs accounts for $3.6 billion in tax dollars each year. Overall, criminalization has had a negative impact – especially when it comes to a substance that has been proven time and time again to be less harmful than legal substances like tobacco and alcohol.
Recent polls show that around 86% of Americans are in favor of legalization of medicinal marijuana, while around 50-60% are in favor of legalizing cannabis for personal use. Americans know that criminalization isn’t working and that it results in more harm than good – it’s far past time for the federal government and law enforcement to come to the same conclusion.