A new study from the Pew Charitable Trust reveals that police have continued arresting people for illegal substances despite states adopting policies designed to reduce the number of incarcerations. The report expounds on drug policy and enforcement trends that have been developed between 2009 and 2019.
In the past decade, state and federal policies have changed with more prosecutors dropping marijuana cases. The study highlights some of the positive outcomes, which include low incarceration rates, reduced cannabis-related arrests and reduced racial differences in overall drug enforcement. However, despite all these efforts, arrests of drug possession still number more than a million a year even though overall arrests have dropped by 26%.
The study found that the number of people held in state prisons because of drug offenses decreased by one-third. This accounted for 38% reduction in admissions and 61% decline in prison populations. The number of Black people admitted to prison dropped by 26% while the number of prisoners dropped by 48%.
As incarceration rates dropped, the mortality rate related to drugs and alcohol increased by five and three times respectively. Within the same period (2009 to 2019), incarcerations for drug offenses reduced by one-third while possession arrests remained the same. In 2019, drug arrests accounted for 1 in every 10 arrests with more than 1.5 million people apprehended.
The report leaves out policy changes that have led to a reduction in racial disparity over drug arrests. Black people have been disproportionately affected by marijuana criminalization. As a result, more states have addressed this disparity by changing their enforcement regulations around marijuana. The report, however, shows that the disparity is still present. Black people accounted for 12% of the U.S. adult population but twice the number of adult drug arrests in 2019.
Pew states that over 1 million individuals with drug dependence were arrested in the past year, of which only 1 in 13 received treatment. The report suggests that more reforms should be done to improve the criminal legal system by making it more equitable. This shift will mitigate the states’ reliance on arrests and imprisonment to address drug misuse.
In a separate poll released last year, Pew noted that there was a significant difference across the political spectrum surrounding the legalization of cannabis for recreational use. However, the general agreement revealed that patients should have access to marijuana for medical purposes.
It is unfortunate that even if companies such as Cannabis Strategic Ventures Inc. (OTC: NUGS) are allowed to operate in various jurisdictions, people are still being arrested and incarcerated over offenses related to a substance that is legal in many states across the country.
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