Pubdate: Tue, 26 Sep 2017
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2017 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: Christopher Ingraham


In 2016 more people were arrested for marijuana possession than for
all crimes the FBI classifies as violent, according to 2016 crime data
released by the agency on Monday.

Marijuana possession arrests edged up slightly in 2016, a year in
which voters in four states approved recreational marijuana
initiatives and voters in three others approved medical marijuana measures.

These figures should be regarded as estimates, because not all law
enforcement agencies provide detailed arrest information to the FBI.
But they do show that the annual number of marijuana arrests is down
from their peak in the mid-2000s and stands at levels last seen in the
mid 1990s. Marijuana use, particularly among adults, rose during this

Marijuana possession remains one of the single largest arrest
categories in the United States, accounting for more than 5 percent of
all arrests last year. More than one in 20 arrests involved a
marijuana possession charge, amounting to more than one marijuana
possession arrest every minute.

This article is roughly 500 words long. Assuming an average adult
reading speed of around 250 words per minute, that means that in the
time it takes you to finish this story, an average of two Americans
will be arrested for marijuana possession.

Overall in 2016, roughly 1.5 million people were arrested for
drug-related offenses, up slightly year-over-year. Advocates for a
more public health-centered approach to drug use say numbers like
these show the drug war never really went away.

''Criminalizing drug use has devastated families across the US,
particularly in communities of color, and for no good reason,'' said
Maria McFarland Sanchez Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy
Alliance, in a statement. ''Far from helping people who are struggling
with addiction, the threat of arrest often keeps them from accessing
health services and increases the risk of overdose or other harms.''

The question of what to do about drug use has become particularly
urgent in recent years as deaths from opioid overdoses have
skyrocketed. The Drug Policy Alliance points out that Portugal, where
the personal possession and use of drugs was decriminalized in 2001,
has one of the lowest drug overdose rates in western Europe.

In the United States, on the other hand, most drug use remains
criminalized. The current attorney general, Jeff Sessions, wants to
crack down further on drug use. Among other things he's reinstated
mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug offenses, recruited a
drug war hard-liner to review current marijuana policy, and spoken out
repeatedly against the current state-level trend toward marijuana

Many public health experts have called for illicit drug use to be
decriminalized in the United States, arguing that many of the negative
effects of the drug trade - crime, disease, over-incarceration - are a
result of strict policies that leaves drug users nowhere to turn but
the black market. This is particularly true for substances such as
marijuana, whose effects at the individual and societal level are
typically less harmful than even legal substances such as alcohol.

National polling shows support for recreational marijuana use hovering
around 60 percent. Eight states plus the District of Columbia now
allow recreational use of the drug. But the latest FBI numbers suggest
that, at the national level at least, this hasn't yet led to
significant changes to pot policing in other states.
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