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Marijuana arrests up again last year despite more legalization

Even though more and more states have legalized marijuana, the overall number of arrests for marijuana offenses continued to rise in 2018, according to new data from the FBI. There were 663,367 marijuana arrests nationwide last year, up from 659,700 in 2017. That itself was a jump from 2016's total of 653,249. Before that, marijuana arrests had been dropping steadily for more than a decade.

Of the marijuana arrests made last year, nearly 92% were for simple possession.

Currently, 11 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for adult recreational use. Another 22 have broadly legalized marijuana for medical use, while others, including Iowa, allow the medical use of CBD, a product derived from cannabis. Several other states have decriminalized, meaning that weed is still illegal but that simple possession is considered less than a misdemeanor.

Overall, that means that the majority of states -- 33 -- have broadly legalized marijuana possession for either recreational or medical use. And, that number doesn't include states like Iowa which have only legalized CBD products.

Considering the change in public attitudes this represents, it seems as if marijuana enforcement should have dropped off. At the very least, the number of arrests nationwide should be declining as legalization states sharply curtail them.

According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report system data, however, American police arrested someone for a marijuana-related offense, on average, every 48 seconds last year.

Should marijuana enforcement really be our top priority?

According to a Forbes contributor, American police arrested people for marijuana for more often than for burglary, arson, aggravated assault, fraud, disorderly conduct or sex offenses, among others. Further, the police made arrests in only 33% of reported rapes, 30% of robberies and 14% of burglaries, on average.

"Americans should be outraged that police departments across the country continue to waste tax dollars and limited law enforcement resources on arresting otherwise law-abiding citizens for simple marijuana possession," said the executive director of NORML.

Even if Iowa never decriminalizes or legalizes marijuana, we should be concerned that the police seem to be treating it as a top priority. Marijuana prohibition is an increasingly unpopular way of dealing with the issue, and it represents a failed policy that tends to target people of color more than whites. Most Americans -- and probably most Iowans -- would like to see our police focus on more serious crimes.

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