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Report: Pot possession arrests surpass those for violent crime

Back in September, our blog discussed how two state lawmakers introduced controversial legislation calling for a reversal of New Jersey's longstanding position toward marijuana, with one bill essentially calling for residents 21 and over to be able to legally possess up to an ounce of the drug, and the other bill calling for its complete decriminalization.

While the bills have caused controversy, they have also serve as something of a catalyst for a constructive dialogue among politicians and pundits alike as to whether it's time for the Garden State to enact some degree of reform concerning marijuana. In fact, the recent release of an eye-opening report by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch might be causing some of the participants in this dialogue to reexamine their stance.

The report, released last month, made the shocking discovery that law enforcement agencies here in the U.S. made 574,641 arrests for marijuana possession in 2016 as compared with 505,681 arrests for violent crimes (serious assault, murder, etc.), a difference of 13.6 percent.

According to the authors, this intense focus on making arrests for possession of a small amount of marijuana is troubling for a variety of reasons, particularly shifting social mores toward the drug, and the increasing number of states and municipalities that have passed legalization/decriminalization measures.

"Most people don't think drug possession is the No. 1 public safety concern, but that's what we're seeing," said the primary author of the study.

The authors argue that these misplaced priorities by law enforcement serves to do little more than expend already limited judicial resources and, more significantly, leave people with permanent criminal records that make it extremely difficult to secure any sort of employment.

As to what's behind this disturbing trend, the authors point the finger squarely at the police practice of selective enforcement. This involves agencies or departments dispatching large numbers of officers to areas with high crime rates, where they then proceed to make as many arrests as possible, particularly for minor offenses like marijuana possession, to drive up arrest figures.

Here's hoping that those involved in the ongoing conversation concerning reform of the state's marijuana laws keep reports like these in mind moving forward.

Always remember to consider speaking with a skilled legal professional who can protect your rights, your reputation and your freedom if you have been charged with any sort of drug crime as soon as possible.

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