An official in Maryland is asking that the Department of Justice formally investigate the system of reporting used by the FBI for local and state cannabis arrests. The key issue is the confusion among agencies of law enforcement on the issuance of citations for the possession of marijuana under decriminalization laws in the state and whether they should be reported as arrests to the FBI.
This confusion has caused inconsistency in the data that is released annually, calling into question the data’s use as a tool to inform policymaking on cannabis. The reporting system, which is known as the Uniform Crime Reporting program, is depended on by researchers, legislators and media to examine and understand law enforcement trends, with more than 18,000 jurisdictions in the country reporting to the agency on why and how many types of arrests are made annually using it.
Maryland official Eric Sterling believes that the arrest data on marijuana that was reported through the program may be embellished after a state police department recently revealed in an interview that they categorized simple civil violations for the possession of marijuana as arrests.
The state of Maryland decriminalized cannabis in 2014 and made the possession of 10 grams of the herb a civil violation punishable by a fine without the threat of jail time or even arrest.
Despite the lack of arrest for such a violation, state police in Maryland report fine issuance as arrests. This is because the National Incident-Based Reporting System manual instructs that violation of laws that prohibit the use, distribution or production of some controlled substances be reported but offers no distinction between criminal arrests and civil violations.
This apparent inconsistency is what prompted Sterling to demand an investigation be done by the Office of the Inspector General. Sterling explained that miscounted arrests undermined the value of cannabis decriminalization as a cost saver for law enforcement, noting that the arrest data may influence federal funding for local and state police departments under several programs.
The issue may have considerable implications for observers and policymakers evaluating the impact of decriminalization policies. An analysis has shown that this interpretation hasn’t been adopted in all departments, with some reporting substantially less cannabis arrests postdecriminalization.
It is not clear how many police agencies in the country classify citations as arrests. However, cities such as Baltimore are using a different reporting style, with far fewer marijuana arrests being reported since its state enacted decriminalization laws.
The response to this appeal is likely to be of interest to the entire marijuana industry, including entities such as Cannabis Strategic Ventures Inc. (OTC: NUGS) because FBI data on different arrests plays a crucial role in informing what stance policy makers at the highest level take.
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