Why Have Cannabis Arrests Increased?
How ironic is it that support for cannabis is at an all-time high, and cannabis is legal in more places than ever, yet marijuana arrests continue to go up?
There is clearly something wrong with the picture.
That’s even worse considering that cannabis-related arrests were already on a steady drop for around a decade in the United States. But recent data from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Report reveals that it’s started to spike once again within the last three years.
According to the report, there were 663,367 arrests last year alone for cannabis-related crimes. It’s also a serious jump up from the 659,700 arrests the year before that, and 653,249 in 2016. “Americans should be outraged that police departments across the country continue to waste tax dollars and limited law enforcement resources on arresting otherwise law-abiding citizens for simple marijuana possession,” commented Erik Altieri, NORML Executive Director.
“Prohibition is a failed and racist policy that should be relegated to the dust bin of history,” Altieri added. “An overwhelming majority of Americans from all political persuasions want to see it brought to an end. Instead of continuing the disastrous practices of the past, it is time lawmakers at all levels begin to honor the will of their constituents and support a sensible marijuana policy focused on legalization and regulation.”
“At a time when the overwhelming majority of Americans want cannabis to be legal and regulated, it is an outrage that many police departments across the country continue to waste tax dollars and limited law enforcement resources on arresting otherwise law-abiding citizens for simple marijuana possession,” Altieri says.
Almost 91% of the 2018 arrests, which make up some 608,776 individuals, were convicted just for possession. Possession rates were also observed to be concentrated in the northeast, which makes up almost half of the arrests, followed by the Midwest and the south. Cannabis arrests in the west were notably lower, though it isn’t surprising as this is where most large states that have legalized cannabis are located.
The Economic Cost
Data from the American Civil Liberties Union sheds light on the painful economic cost of these cannabis arrests. They find that cops made over 8.2 million cannabis arrests throughout the country from 2001-2010, and it cost cops $ 3.6 billion a year to enforce possession laws. This means that the police departments spend a cool $ 4,390 for every arrest during those years.
However, the cost of police drug enforcement is just a small aspect of what’s really going on. Those accused still need to pay to defend themselves, perhaps shell out even more cash for restitution, so the actual figures are already in the billions.
Additionally, around 6% of those arrests end up as a felony conviction, while the rest are successfully defended. Sometimes, the accused plead to a misdemeanor or charges may be dropped. But in these scenarios, the defendants have the financial responsibility to shoulder all legal services or even pay for the restitution or related fines if they want to have the charges reduced or dismissed.
The convicted will need to pay lawyer fees too, court fees, and even bail fees, depending on the situation as well as the state they’re in.
But the big picture is that, the real impact of cannabis arrests don’t end in the courtroom. These arrests will have a serious long-term impact on the convicted, their families, and their careers. Even if cannabis is legalized today, this doesn’t mean that it will undo the damage that has been done. A staggering 90% of people arrested for marijuana possession don’t have prior convictions, and given that there are tens of thousands of Americans a year who still have felony convictions, they could still spend a lot of time in jail for a harmless cannabis crime.
These people end up suffering from a loss of earnings because data tells us that salaries increase much slower after a person has been incarcerated. In fact, wages are frozen when someone goes to jail, and being incarcerated also reduces the speed of salary growth by 30%.
Having a criminal record, no matter what the crime was, also reduces call backs from potential employers by half.
Given that parental income is the biggest determinant of an offspring’s income, if a parent is convicted because of a cannabis crime, this can affect their children for decades to come.
Thoughtless cannabis arrests need to come to an end immediately, because this can ruin the lives of the future generations – for absolutely nonsensical reasons.