FBI REPORT SHOWS 2016 DRUG ARREST EVERY 25 SECONDS
Where is Nancy Reagan, anyway? President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have strutted in public that they are “re-starting” the drug war, as if the war on drugs ever ended. Not only did it not end, it never slackened for a moment, or a second. As per the FBI’s latest Uniform Crime Report, the various U.S. law enforcement agencies made more than 1.57 million arrests for drug related law violations in 2016. That constitutes a 5.63% increase over arrests from 2015. That also equals more than three times as many arrests for all violent crime arrests, combined. If you want to know what time it is, you can measure its passage by a drug related arrest in 2016 once every 25 seconds. That almost sounds like an industry.
DRUG ARRESTS NUMBERS CLIMB EVEN AS MARIJUANA INCREASINGLY LEGAL TO POSSESS
Some more contextual statistics of these numbers includes that more than 84% of these arrests were only for drug possession. So, in 2016 there were more than 1.3 million arrests solely for drug possession. If you thought that the legalization of medical or recreational marijuana use would cause a reduction in arrests, you’d be wrong; 41% of all 2016 drug related arrests in 2016 were for marijuana, the overwhelming majority for possession.
MOST AMERICANS WANT TO LEGALIZE MARIJUANA, END GENERAL DRUG CRIMINALITY
These insane and massive numbers do not gibe at all with national public opinion, as a consistent majority of Americans support not just legalizing marijuana, but ending criminal punishment for drug use. As laid out in a recent Drug Policy Alliance report, there’s a growing political and scientific consensus that otherwise-law-abiding people should not face arrest, nor be locked away behind bars, for the simple use or possession of a drug.
AFRICAN AMERICANS’ DRUG USE COMPARABLE TO ALL OTHERS, TWICE AS LIKELY TO BE ARRESTED, ALMOST THREE TIMES AS LIKELY TO BE INCARCERATED
The discriminatory enforcement of drug possession laws has produced growing and profound racial and ethnic disparities at every level of the criminal justice system. African Americans comprise just 13% of the U.S. population yet use drugs at similar rates as other groups – but they comprise 29% of arrests for drug law violations and 35% of those incarcerations in state prison for drug possession.
DRUG WAR HELPS TRUMP DEPORT NON-CITIZENS, INCLUDING PERMANENT RESIDENTS
Furthermore, drug criminalization also fuels mass detentions and deportations. For noncitizens, which also includes legal permanent residents – most of whom have been in the U.S. for decades and also have jobs and families – possession of any amount of any drug (with the exception of first-time possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana) can trigger an automatic detention and deportation, quite frequently without the possibility of return.
PORTUGAL’S DROP IN DRUG CRIME OFFERS GLOWING PRECEDENT FOR DRUG LEGALIZATION, PRIORITIZING REHABILITATION AND ASSISTANCE OVER INCARCERATION
Several countries have prior successful experience with ending criminal penalties for drug use and possession, most notably in Portugal. Back in 2001, Portugal enacted one of the most extensive drug law reforms worldwide when it decriminalized low-level possession and use of all illegal drugs.
In Portugal today, no one gets arrested or is incarcerated for drug possession, vastly more people are receiving treatment, and addiction, HIV/AIDS as well as drug overdose have drastically dropped in number.
MANY U.S. STATES HAVE MAJORITY OPINION TO LEGALIZE DRUGS
Polls conducted of U.S. presidential primary voters in 2016 found that substantial majorities support ending arrests for drug use and possession in the states of Maine (64%), New Hampshire (66%) and even South Carolina (59%). Also in 2016, the first state-level decriminalization bill was introduced in Maryland and then a similar version was reintroduced this year in 2017. Meanwhile the Hawaii legislature overwhelmingly approved a bill last year that created a commission to study decriminalization.
Earlier this past year, both the United Nations and World Health Organization released a joint statement that called for the repeal of laws that criminalize drug use and possession. They now join what’s become an impressive group of national and international organizations that have endorsed drug decriminalization which includes the International Red Cross, Organization of American States, Movement for Black Lives, NAACP, and American Public Health Association, as well as many others.
DRUG WAR AN INDUSTRY FOR PRISON INDUSTRY, CREATES THE CRIMINALS NEEDED TO MAKE MONEY
The FBI’s most recent data now lays bare how the drug war continues to be the major driver of not just mass incarceration, but mass criminalization more overall. The criminalization of drug use hurts families as well as communities, it compounds social and economic inequalities, and it grossly and unfairly denies millions of people the opportunity to support both themselves and their families.
The policy of the drug war in the U.S. doesn’t work – and it actually makes things much worse. The limited available public resources should be better spent on expanding public access to effective drug treatment and other health services that aid prevention and is of more public value than mass incarceration. As the deadly overdose rates skyrocket all over the U.S., those who need drug treatment or medical assistance may feel the need to avoid it in order to hide their drug use. If drugs are decriminalized in the U.S., people can come out of the shadows and get the help they need to be productive and not just assets in the incarceration industry.
We now have a federal administration dedicated to boost up the drug war – but the majority of drug enforcement is facilitated at the local and state levels, so a large number of jurisdictions across the U.S. are responding to Trump and Sessions by pushing drug policy reforms forward with ever greater urgency. This week’s latest FBI report provides us all more than a million reasons why these reforms are so crucial.