The success of cannabis legalization across the United States over the past several years has somewhat convinced the American public that the War on Weed is a dying animal. However, the latest national crimes statistics published earlier this week by the FBI reveal that law enforcement agencies are continuing to bust people for minor marijuana offenses at a rate significantly higher than arrests for other “epidemic” drugs.
According to the report, the boys in blue made over 700,000 marijuana-related arrests in 2014, which represents an increase for the first time since 2009. Although this inflation of handcuffs does not show a major uprising in the way cops in prohibition districts are still handling weed, it does suggest that these forces have at least ramped up their marijuana enforcement to a degree—despite public opinion showing nationwide support for pot legalization.
What is most alarming, however, is that the majority of these arrests were not attributed to hardcore drug trafficking operations, but for simple possession.
The data shows that 88 percent of all the arrests made in 2014 were for people who were busted for marijuana possession alone. In fact, just over 5 percent of the arrests were for larger crimes involving the illegal cultivation and distribution of the herb. This means that over 600,000 people went to jail last year for using a substance that is now legal for recreational and medicinal purposes or decriminalized in well over half the United States.
“These numbers refute the myth that nobody actually gets arrested for using marijuana,” Mason Tvert of the Marijuana Policy Project said in a statement. “It’s hard to imagine why more people were arrested for marijuana possession when fewer people than ever believe it should be a crime.”
There is speculation that while the nation continues to push towards legalization, police operating in prohibition states are trying harder than ever to show they don’t support the issue. After all, arrests for pot possession had been on a steady decline since around 2007; that is, until Colorado and Washington launched full-scale cannabis markets and the majority of the nation seemed in favor of doing the same.
Shockingly, nearly 40 percent of all the drug-related arrests last year were for marijuana-related offenses, while arrests for the combination of cocaine, heroin and similar substances ranked only 17 percent.
Some might argue that arrests for marijuana were more prevalent than harder drugs because it is still one of the most popular illicit substances in the country. Yet, with heroin and prescription painkiller abuse reportedly becoming a nationwide epidemic, it seems a bit odd that police are still focused on eliminating stoners in their grand scheme of the domestic drug war.
And while it is true that most of these pot arrests likely did not end in prison terms, they undoubtedly came with brutal consequences. Spending even a night in jail and then being forced to contend with a drug possession charge puts a financial strain on hard working Americans, making it difficult for them to maintain employment and costing them thousands of dollars in fines and court fees.
Perhaps this data will shake some sense into those marijuana activists that continue to fight each other over whether the cannabis plant should be legalized for medicinal or recreational purposes. It is time to stop arguing semantics on this issue and wage a unified war against the lawmakers and government officials who continue to allow the criminalization of all cannabis users.