Police are arresting more people for marijuana use and possession than for all violent crimes combined.
There were over 574,640 arrests for marijuana possession in 2015, according to a report released on Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Human Rights Watch (HRW).
“By comparison, there were 505,681 arrests for violent crimes. This means that police made almost 14 percent more arrests for simple marijuana possession than for all violent crimes combined,” the report states. The FBI defines violent crime as murder, non-negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault.
A large portion of the incarcerated are awaiting trial and have not been convicted. They often cannot afford to post bail, especially due to a litany of court-imposed fines and fees.
Proponents of more harsh penalties for drug possession, including marijuana, contend that being aggressive is necessary to dissuade people from obtaining or using the substances.
“Anyone who says that incarceration has no effect on public safety should then explain the record crime declines of the 90s and early 2000s when we started to lock away dangerous career criminals for longer periods of time. Think of the people who are alive today because we got smart on crime by getting tougher,” Sheriff David A. Clarke, Jr. argues in an op-ed for the Hill.
But data indicates that marijuana use among the populace has not changed.
“Since 2002, marijuana use in the United States has increased among persons aged ≥18 years [the majority of the population], but not among those aged 12–17 years,” a Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report reads.
“A decrease in the perception of great risk from smoking marijuana combined with increases in the perception of availability (i.e., fairly easy or very easy to obtain marijuana)…might play a role.”
The latest ACLU and HRW report is somewhat corroborated by another report conducted by The Brennan Center for Justice in June. From 2006 to 2014, national imprisonment for all crimes fell 7 percent, while crime simultaneously fell 23 percent. The results, of course, varied by state.
The ACLU and HRW assessment details many examples of small-scale drug use that ended up with lengthy sentences.
“In New Orleans, Corey Ladd was sentenced as a habitual offender to 17 years for possessing half an ounce of marijuana,” according to the report.
“‘Mass incarceration’ is a myth. It is what the U.S. government did to Japanese-Americans during World War II – people were rounded up and thrown in prison because of who they were, without any sort of trial or due process,” Alfred S. Regnery, a conservative lawyer, writes in an article for Breitbart.
“The idea that federal prisons are overflowing with non-violent or minor drug offenders is also flat wrong. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, almost all – 99.5 percent – of drug offenders in federal prison are serving sentences for drug trafficking – which does not mean simply selling small amounts of marijuana or even heroin,” Regnery continued.
Holly Harris, executive director of the U.S. Justice Action Network, disagrees. She told The Daily Caller News Foundation that “this report provides fascinating insight into all of the resources that are spent arresting low-level drug offenders.”
Harris says it’s disheartening to hear that there are people who are “never offered rehabilitation resources” and that it is imperative for “lawmakers, law enforcement, and other stakeholders, to break the cycle of incarceration.”
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