America’s 2011 drug war tally: One marijuana arrest every 42 seconds

By Stephen C. Webster
Monday, October 29, 2012 15:37 EDT
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New numbers released Monday by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Uniform Crime Reporting Program show that nearly half of all drug arrests in 2011 were marijuana-related, and of those arrests almost 90 percent were for possession alone.

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a drug reform advocacy group, said that the latest numbers show that marijuana users were arrested last year at a rate of one every 42 seconds. Accounting for all illegal drug users, they added that arrest rate jumps to one every 21 seconds.

In all, the FBI said that law enforcement agencies made 1,531,251 drug-related arrests last year. Approximately 49.5 percent of those arrests — roughly 757,969 — were for marijuana. Of those marijuana arrests, the vast majority, about 87 percent, were for simple possession.

“Even excluding the costs involved for later trying and then imprisoning these people, taxpayers are spending between one and a half to three billion dollars a year just on the police and court time involved in making these arrests,” Neill Franklin, director of LEAP and a former Baltimore police officer, said in a prepared statement. “That’s a lot of money to spend for a practice that four decades of unsuccessful policies have proved does nothing to reduce the consumption of drugs.”

“As in past years, the so-called ‘drug war’ remains fueled by the arrests of minor marijuana possession offenders,” Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), added in a release. “Cannabis prohibition financially burdens taxpayers, encroaches upon civil liberties, engenders disrespect for the law, impedes upon legitimate scientific research into the plant’s medicinal properties, and disproportionately impacts communities of color.”

Despite polls showing that a narrow majority of Americans would like to see marijuana legalized, taxed and regulated similarly to alcohol, President Barack Obama has maintained that he does not support legalization. However, voters in three states — Washington, Colorado and Oregon — will weigh in on legalization initiatives in just over a week, and all of them appear to on track to win.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) says that marijuana is a Schedule I drug, a category supposedly reserved only for the most dangerous substances with no known medical uses.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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