Marijuana Arrests Happened Every 51 Seconds in the U.S. Last Year

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on September 29, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

States are increasingly legalizing marijuana, but weed smokers are still not getting off scot-free. A marijuana possession arrest happened every 51 seconds somewhere in the US last year, according to FBI data on American crime in 2014.

These figures show law enforcement is out of touch with the public it serves, say marijuana legalization advocates. They point to the FBI's 2014 figures for serious violent crimes -- murder, rape, and assault -- noting that half of these cases went unsolved.

Decriminalizing Recreation Drugs

Interestingly, the pro-pot people have some support from police, prosecutors, and sheriffs. Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, an organization working toward decriminalization of all recreational drugs, believes that drug prohibition is the true cause of much of the social and personal damage that has historically been attributed to drug use.

"It is prohibition that makes these drugs so valuable ... [B]y eliminating prohibition of all drugs for adults and establishing appropriate regulation and standards for distribution and use, law enforcement could focus more on crimes of violence, such as rape, aggravated assault, child abuse and murder, making our communities much safer."

LEAP notes that one out of every 100 American adults was behind bars in jail or prison in 2010. The US houses nearly a quarter of the world's prisoners despite having less than five percent of the world's total population, and all the arrests and incarceration are coming at a high cost.

The Cost of Pot Arrests

Marijuana arrests tax public coffers, which is just one of the many reasons that the legalization movement has gained strength in the last decade. The American Civil Liberties Union estimates that the typical marijuana arrest costs about $750 -- that is just for the arrest, not adjudication.

Given the 620,000 marijuana possession arrests that took place last year, that adds up to half a billion dollars spent on pot possession arrests in 2014 alone. Add to this the cost of administrating all these arrests in the court systems, and the incalculable impact on individual's lives, and the price may be too high.

Conflicting Laws

States are increasingly looking to cut these costs. Nearly half have medical marijuana laws while some have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of pot for personal use. Four states and Washington DC have legalized weed for recreational use and the question of whether to legalize will continue be on local ballots across the country this year.

But marijuana is still a schedule I controlled substance, according to the feds. From their perspective, weed is still completely illegal in the United States.

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