A new report from the FBI revealed that police and other law enforcement officials continue to arrest drug offenders at very high rates, particularly people who merely possess marijuana. In 2007, 1.9 million people were arrested on drug charges, 872,000 of them for marijuana offenses. Arrests for marijuana offenses increased by 5% in 2007, which is an all time high, although the overall crime rate decreased in 2007 for the fifth year in a row. It is not just marijuana traffickers and growers who are being arrested. According to the FBI report, 89% of marijuana cases are possession cases. A drug arrest and conviction, even if merely for simple possession of marijuana, can have serious effects. A person in Florida who is convicted for a marijuana related offense risks losing his/her driver’s license, professional license, access to public assistance and access to student loans.
As of 2007, police arrest more people for drugs than for any other crime. Twenty percent of state prison inmates are there for a drug related offense, and over half of the inmates in federal prisons are there for drug related offenses.
The United States has spent hundreds of billions of dollars on the war on drugs and put millions of U.S. citizens in jail or prison. However, while the U.S. has some of the strictest drug laws in the world, we have one of the highest rates of drug use. Clearly, the U.S. needs to consider a different approach that sensibly weighs the cost, both in dollars and otherwise, and effectiveness of current, strict drug laws against the seriousness of the various marijuana and other drug related crimes.