Marijuana has become the drug of choice for police departments nationwide – a trend that is playing out with major consequences here in Nevada. According to a new report released by the ACLU, police in Nevada made 10,382 marijuana arrests in 2010. We have the 8th highest arrest rate in the country, per capita. Of these arrests 9,139, or 88%, were for possession – which means that thousands of people have been unnecessarily ensnared in our criminal justice system just for having marijuana.
Let’s begin with the backstory. Over the last twenty years, police have turned much of their zeal for fighting the misguided War on Drugs towards the enforcement of marijuana laws in communities across the country. Since, 2001, arrests for possession of marijuana in Nevada have risen 96%, one of the greatest increases in the nation.
Like America’s larger War on Drugs, America’s War on Marijuana has been a failure. Despite being a priority for police departments, their aggressive enforcement of marijuana laws has not diminished the use or availability of marijuana. In fact, use has increased.
How is this failed War on Marijuana affecting Nevada?
- Over-policing. In 2010, cops in Nevada made one marijuana bust every 50 minutes. Once ensnared in the criminal justice system, people can lose their liberty, money, time, jobs, public benefits, child custody, drivers’ licenses and student aid, and can be deported.
- Wasted Time and Money. Nevada spent over $41.6 million enforcing marijuana possession laws in 2010, making our per capita spending the 6th highest in the nation. This money could have been otherwise invested in our communities to enhance public health and safety, drug treatment programs, and police-community relations.
- Unacceptable and Extreme Racial Bias. Marijuana usage rates are similar among Blacks and whites, yet Blacks in Nevada are 4.5 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession. Nevada has the 11th worst racial disparity in arrest rates for marijuana possession in the nation.
The aggressive enforcement of marijuana possession laws needlessly mires hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal justice system, crowds our jails, wastes billions of taxpayers’ dollars, fails to reduce marijuana use and availability, diverts precious police resources away from solving serious crimes, and is carried out with staggering racial bias.