The FBI recently released a report stating that marijuana arrests are at a record high. Most of these arrests are simply for possession of the drug. In 2012, 51.6 percent of all possession charges were for marijuana. Marijuana also accounted for 33.1 percent of charges related to drug sales and/or manufacturing. It is also estimated by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) that as of 2011, 51.9 percent of adults ages 18-25 had used marijuana at some point in their life, along with 43.2 percent of adults over 26. The NIDA also estimated that 19 percent have used in the past month alone.
Dan Riffle is the director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, the country’s largest marijuana policy reform group. He believes law enforcement officials are putting their efforts in the wrong place.
“Instead of punishing and stigmatizing responsible adult marijuana users, we should be focusing on serious crime,” he said. “As a former prosecuting attorney myself, I believe it is irresponsible to squander our limited law enforcement resources on this disastrous public policy failure.”
Some believe it is disastrous indeed, and yet the laws may never change. Professor Leonard Goodman of DePaul’s College of Law discussed some of the financial benefits provided to the government by keeping these laws in place. “The state police that are in small jurisdictions are trained to stop the marijuana traffickers (headed east from California), and it is a very good source of income to the town because they can charge people large fines to reduce the charges,” he said.
Goodman then went on to say that the laws are quite controversial. Goodman also acknowledged that the federal government faces a lot of pressure to keep the laws because of interest groups that profit from the fines that marijuana dealers and users are faced with if caught. In addition, a lot of money comes from marijuana-related court cases. Despite this, Goodman said he “thinks things will change.”
Even though these laws are still implemented in some states, Washington and Colorado have changed the game. Other states still have a long way to go before new laws are implemented, and it is even more difficult to get these laws changed on a federal level. Chicago criminal defense lawyer Steve Hunter predicted that eventually, the laws will change. “I do believe that marijuana will be legal in all 50 states because the science supports the argument that it is no worse than alcohol or cigarettes, and with each generation more people become accepting of it,” he said.
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