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CUNY sociology professor and marijuana policy researcher Harry Levine told me for an interview in the New Inquiry that marijuana possession arrests were a “national scandal” on the level of the Love Canal and Ford Pinto scandals.
A new FBI study, based on the most recent national statistics from up to 2011, found that marijuana arrests have remained at an all-time high, with 749,824 arrests that year, the vast majority (87 percent) for no more than possession. A release from the nonprofit Marijuana Policy Project noted:
These results show that one person is arrested for marijuana possession every 48 seconds on average in the United States. A Pew Research Poll released in April reported that a majority of Americans think marijuana should be taxed and regulated in a manner similar to alcohol.
Levine, a longtime proponent of legalization, told me earlier this year:
The work of exposing these huge numbers of possession arrests has only just begun, but the facts are startling. In New York City for over 15 years more people have been arrested for marijuana possession than for any other criminal charge whatsoever. One arrest in eight is for simple possession of a small amount of marijuana. That general pattern is true for many other cities and counties.
Police arrest mostly young and low-income people for marijuana possession, 90 percent men, disproportionately young blacks and Latinos. In the last 15 years, police and sheriff ’s departments in every major U.S. city and county have made over 10 million of these possession arrests… Years of federal studies have found that young whites use marijuana at higher rates than young blacks or Latinos, but the young people of color are far more likely to be stopped, frisked and searched by police than young whites.
In the last year the political tides framing the U.S. war on drugs has shifted, with possession legalization in Washington state and Colorado and the recent announcement from the Justice Department that feds would not interfere with the implementation of state legalization laws. Similarly, the growing success of anti-stop-and-frisk efforts may serve to limit the number of pot possession arrests. However, it will take time and effort to drastically bring down the marijuana arrest numbers and millions of people — especially young black and brown men — continue to live with the devastating repercussions of a marijuana arrest on their records.
Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email email@example.com.More Natasha Lennard.