Arrests for possessing small amounts of marijuana exceeded those for all violent crimes last year, even as social attitudes toward the drug have changed and a number of cities and states have legalized its use or decriminalized small quantities, says a new report quoted by the New York Times. A disproportionate number of those arrested are African Americans, who smoke marijuana at rates similar to whites but are arrested and prosecuted far more often for having small amounts for personal use, said the study by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch. With marijuana use on the rise, law enforcement agencies made 574,641 arrests last year for small quantities of the drug intended for personal use. The marijuana arrests were 13.6 percent more than the 505,681 arrests made for all violent crimes, including murder, rape, and serious assaults.
Tess Borden, a fellow at Human Rights Watch and the ACLU who wrote the report, found that despite the steep decline in crime rates over the last two decades, including a 36 percent drop in violent crime arrests from 1995 to 2015, the number of arrests for all drug possessions, including marijuana, increased 13 percent. “Most people don’t think drug possession is the No. 1 public safety concern, but that’s what we’re seeing,” Borden said. Criminologists say African Americans are arrested more often than whites and others for drug possession in large part because of questionable police practices. “It is selective enforcement … you have all sorts of drug use inside elite college dorms, but you don’t see the police busting through doors,” said Inimai Chettiar of New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice.