U.S.: Study Finds Marijuana Arrests Outnumber Those For Violent Crimes
By Derrick Stanley
A new study has found that arrests for possessing small amounts of marijuana exceeded those for all violent crimes last year, even though more and more cities and states have decriminalized or legalized the plant and attitudes toward it have changed.
And even though African-Americans smoke pot at rates similar to whites, black adults were found to be arrested at more than two and a half times the rate of whites.
Th report was released Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch.
"Around the country, police make more arrests for drug possession than for any other crime," the report finds, citing FBI data. "More than one of every nine arrests by state law enforcement is for drug possession, amounting to more than 1.25 million arrests each year."
The report says that on any given day in the United States, at least 137,000 men and women sit behind bars on simple drug possession charges.
Nearly two-thirds of them are in local jails. Most of these jailed inmates have not been convicted of any crime, the report says. They're sitting in a cell, awaiting a day in court which may be months or even years off, because they can't afford to post bail.
"It's been 45 years since the war on drugs was declared and it hasn't been a success," lead author Tess Borden of the Human Rights Watch said in an interview. "Rates of drug use are not down. Drug dependency has not stopped. Every 25 seconds we're arresting someone for drug use."
With marijuana use on the rise, law enforcement agencies made 574,641 arrests last year for small quantities of the drug intended for personal use, according to the report.
The emphasis on making marijuana arrests is worrisome, Ms. Borden said.
“Most people don’t think drug possession is the No. 1 public safety concern, but that’s what we’re seeing,” she said.
The report refers to cases where lengthy sentences were handed down in some states for possession of small amounts of drugs.
One such case is that of Corey J. Ladd, who was arrested in New Orleans in 2011 with a half an ounce of marijuana during a traffic stop. Because he had two prior convictions for possessing small amounts of LSD and hydrocodone, he was sentenced to 17 years in 2013 as a "habitual offender". He's currently appealing the sentence to Louisiana's Supreme Court.
"Corey's story is about the real waste of human lives, let alone taxpayer money, of arrest and incarceration for personal drug use," lead author Tess Borden said. "He could be making money and providing for his family."
Researchers for the ACLU and the Human Rights Watch conducted analyses of arrest and incarceration data from Florida, New York and Texas for the report.
The habitual offender law in Texas is one of the harshest. In Texas 116 people are currently serving life sentences on charges of simple drug possession. Seven of those people earned their sentences for possessing quantities of drugs weighing between 1 gram and 4 grams, or less than a typical sugar packet. Texas law allows prosecutors to seek longer-than-normal sentences for people who have two prior felonies.
"In 2015, more than 78 percent of people sentenced to incarceration for felony drug possession in Texas possessed under a gram," the report found.