A new report compiled by the American Civil Liberties Union confirms what I witnessed almost every day throughout my 34-year career as a police officer: Marijuana arrests are racially biased and a serious waste of precious law enforcement resources. But it is not too late to change this reality: the Department of Justice should stop rewarding police departments for racially biased marijuana arrests.
Police officers should be focused on solving and preventing violent crimes, not making marijuana possession arrests. But in 2011, police arrested more people for marijuana than for all violent crimes combined. This is predominantly because the federal government has created an incentive to focus on marijuana arrests by using those arrests to determine how they distribute hundreds of millions of dollars of funding. Furthermore, even though blacks and whites use marijuana at nearly the same rates, blacks are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana. These racial disparities in marijuana arrests exist in every region of the country.
The Department of Justice can put an end to racially biased marijuana arrests and wasteful misuse of law enforcement resources by stopping the inclusion of marijuana arrests as a performance criterion for state and local law enforcement agencies applying for federal funding. We are spending more than $3.5 billion a year on marijuana arrests with little impact on use or availability. For the ten year period ending in 2010, someone was arrested for marijuana every 37 seconds, yet the majority of violent crimes went unsolved. Clearly, we need to rethink our priorities.
I know firsthand that marijuana arrests are not solving the problems created by real crime, and that marijuana prohibition causes more harm than good. By rewarding police departments when they focus on marijuana arrests instead of stopping violent crime, we are actually making our streets less safe and filling our jails with nonviolent drug offenders.
Let’s end this ineffective policy and stop wasting our law enforcement resources. Join me in calling on the Department of Justice to stop rewarding police departments for racially biased marijuana arrests.
Major Neill Franklin (Retired), Maryland State Police
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition