In 2016, law enforcement agencies around the country arrested three times as many people for drug violations than for all violent crimes put together. The 1.57 million drug arrests represent a 5.63 percent increase over 2015 figures and cast doubt on predictions that the drug war may be coming to an end. Law and order advocates in Virginia and elsewhere claim that a tough stance on drugs is needed to keep the public safe, but more than eight out of 10 of those charged with narcotics offenses in 2016 were arrested simply for possessing an illegal substance.
The figures come from the latest Uniform Crime Report from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and they reveal that marijuana enforcement remains a law enforcement priority despite several states passing laws either decriminalizing or legalizing the drug. More than 40 percent of the drug arrests in 2016 were for marijuana offenses according to the report, and most of these individuals were charged with simple possession.
The data also reveals that drug policies in the United States are becoming increasingly detached from both public opinion and the views of experts on the subject. Polls show that the majority of Americans support a softer stance even in traditionally conservative states, and the World Health Organization and the United Nations released a joint statement in June calling for decriminalization. Such calls have also been made by organizations ranging from the American Red Cross and the American Public Health Association to the NAACP.
Those charged with drug possession often face stiff penalties, and having a criminal record can make it more difficult for them to find a job or rent a home. Experienced criminal defense attorneys will likely be aware of this, and they may seek to have drug possession charges reduced or dismissed when police officers have violated the constitutional rights of the defendants.