In 2011, arrests for marijuana exceeded arrests for violent crime by more than 100,000, according to a report from the FBI.
Though marijuana laws have become liberalized — with 18 states legalizing the drug for medicinal use and two now explicitly allowing recreational use as the result of ballot initiatives — marijuana arrests have doubled since 1980, according to this analysis from the Huffington Post:
Marijuana is still illegal under federal law, presenting a law-enforcement challenge. Late last year, President Obama said that his administration would not go after recreational users of the drug.
“We’ve got bigger fish to fry,” Obama said. “It would not make sense for us to see a top priority as going after recreational users in states that have determined that it’s legal.”
A bare majority of Americans support regulating the drug like alcohol. That majority is substantially larger among young people, as it has been for decades.
The total number of marijuana arrests suggests an epidemic of wasted resources, especially as America faces the question of how to deal with gun violence — which claims more than 30,000 lives a year.
According to NRA representative Jim Baker, Vice President Biden said that the federal government lacks the resources to prosecute those who may be lying on firearms background check applications.
“And to your point, Mr. Baker, regarding the lack of prosecutions on lying on Form 4473s, we simply don’t have the time or manpower to prosecute everybody who lies on a form, that checks a wrong box, that answers a question inaccurately,” Biden allegedly said.
While the resources that go into prosecuting marijuana crimes are often local, more than half a million arrests a year suggests that in a time of cutbacks America can’t afford to spend an estimated $10 billion on marijuana arrests. New York spent $75 million in 2010, prompting Governor Cuomo to call for decriminalization of marijuana possession under 15 grams.
MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry recently said that ending the drug war would be the “best gun control measure we can enact.
With Cuomo, a presumptive candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, bringing the issue to the fore, this may finally be a conversation America can have.
Photo: Thomas Hawk via Flickr