Marijuana possession is a low priority—at least that’s what we keep hearing from many law enforcement officials across the country and even the White House. Possession, they say, is such a low-grade offense, that cops can better spend their time fighting real crime like assaults and robberies. This approach makes perfect sense. It’s just too bad this approach isn’t being followed.
According to Marijuana Policy Project, there is a marijuana arrest every 42 seconds. When you consider the time and money that go into executing an arrest, booking someone, charging them, and then bringing them before the judge if appropriate, we are filling the court system with marijuana offenders.
But surely, most of these arrests are for serious offenses, right? Wrong. Of these marijuana arrests, 86 percent are for possession.
In 2011, there were 663,032 arrests for just marijuana possession. That’s more than all violent crimes combined, according to the Huffington Post. Since 1980, pot possession arrests have just about doubled.
We are arresting more potheads than violent criminals. And why are we doing this? It can’t be because arresting marijuana users makes our streets safer—when’s the last time you heard of a pothead robbing someone for his marijuana “habit”? Instead, it seems, law enforcement and officials are pushing these arrests for no other reason than because “that’s how it’s always been done.”
Marijuana possession is against the law,with the exceptions of Washington and Colorado where it was legalized this fall. And there are a number of states and cities that have decriminalized possession of small amounts to a civil infraction, or a ticket.
But, regardless of how unserious this law violation is, it seems law enforcement officials want to keep executing arrests as if they are keeping score.
Possession arrests do not keep us safer and they do nothing to reduce the flow of illegal drugs.
In addition, they are expensive. In 2010, in New York City alone, marijuana possession arrests cost $75 million. Some national estimates say the country spends more than $10 billion on these arrests, and for what?
“Every year, this process needlessly scars thousands of lives and wastes millions of dollars in law enforcement resources, while detracting from the prosecution of serious crime,” said New York Governor Cuomo in his State of the State address. “It’s not fair, it’s not right. It must end, and it must end now.”
He’s right, and many others echo his position. But we continue to see puzzling stats that indicate marijuana possession is a serious crime, something worth wasting our resources on.
Is the tide changing? Perhaps. Perhaps the numbers simply haven’t caught up with the changing attitude and laws regarding marijuana. We can only hope that in another year or so, this discussion will have changed dramatically. Until then, be cautious. Just because one official has said pot is a “low priority” doesn’t make it so. Case in point: President Obama’s lip service to medical marijuana permissiveness and his aggressive raiding and prosecution of dispensary owners.