There Was One Pot Arrest Every 49 Seconds in the U.S. Last Year

Recreational pot is legal in four states, and there are another 25 or so where marijuana is medically legal or decriminalized to some degree. In November voters will have a chance to approve Proposition 64 and make California the fifth recreational state.

But as some celebrate our evolution to a more cannabis-friendly society, it feels like the drug war is still producing casualties. The FBI recently released its national crime data for 2015. The group Marijuana Majority crunched the numbers and concludes there was a pot-related arrest in America every 49 seconds.

That's more than one each minute.

There were 1,488,707 drug-related arrests in 2015, the FBI found; 643,121 of those (43.2 percent) involved cannabis. Of those, more than a third were for possession while only about one in 20 were for sales, according to the data.

Police forces in some of the nation's largest cities, Los Angeles included, have essentially had a stand-down policy on minor pot infractions. In California, possession of a small amount of pot is worth only a ticket anyway. And still, as the Drug Policy Alliance recently found in its own report, there have been nearly a half-million cannabis arrests in the Golden State since 2006.

Last year African-Americans were arrested for weed-related allegations 3½ times more often than whites, the California analysis found. Latinos were collared 35 percent more often than whites. It's long been an argument of the pro-pot crowd that legalization will help to relieve some of the racial disparity in the justice system.

That could ultimately keep people at work, out of jail and, in some cases, alive. The incident that led to the fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina, last week began when cops observed the African-American man rolling a blunt, authorities said. The confrontation, some of which was caught on video, inspired days of protest in the Southern city.

Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority, said the latest FBI figures were "alarming."

"While the numbers are thankfully dropping over time, it’s alarming and simply unacceptable that someone is harassed by the police just for marijuana every 49 seconds in this country," he said. "Polls now consistently show that a growing majority of Americans supports full legalization, and it’s about time more politicians and law enforcement caught up. Our movement is set to more than double the number of states with legalization this November, and we won’t stop pushing until the day when no one is put into handcuffs or cages just because they choose to consume cannabis."

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