Cannabis advocates would dare say that 2019 has been a banner year in the realm of pot reform. Many boast about how the legal cannabis trade is, depending on which analysis we choose to listen to this week, on the verge of becoming a mega-billion dollar business sector that employs hundreds of thousands of workers, cures the incurable, helps us get to Mars and perhaps, if we’re really lucky, absolves us of all of our sins and puts us at the front of the line with the masters of the universe.
But the one aspect of legal cannabis that no one is really talking about much anymore is, even though over half the country has some sort of cannabis law on the books, more people are now being dragged to jail for pot possession and enduring other hardships as a result of a prohibition standard than in the past decade. So, has America really made any significant progress on this issue?
The United States was doing an admirable job cutting back on pot arrests for a while. Crime data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) shows that busts for buds were on a decline for right around nine years. But it wasn’t like this was supernatural or anything. Law enforcement was simply making fewer arrests for weed-related crimes because of legalization and decriminalization efforts unfolding in more parts of the country. It was a trend that advocates predicted would continue its downward spiral, too. However, something nasty happened while we weren’t looking.
The latest FBI crime report shows that cops across the U.S. busted more people for pot possession in 2018 than in the past couple of years. In fact, drug arrests have increased overall for the past 30 years, according to a recent report from the New York Times. So if you thought that just because millions of people can now buy weed legally from a dispensary that it means the drug war is officially over, think again. Well over a half million people went to jail last year for weed. What’s more, is this increase is not attributed to the cartels. The majority of these arrests were people caught with small amounts of marijuana. Yes sir, petty pot crime is still jamming us up.
Even in states where marijuana has been legalized, police forces are doing their best to crack the skulls of as many potheads as possible before retail sales get underway. In Illinois, not only are police “still doing their jobs” by making arrests and writing citations for public and minor consumption (two aspects that will not change once legal sales begin in January), they are also using marijuana as a means for seizing people’s personal property.
A recent report from Patch shows that a Joliet man is set to lose his vehicle under the civil asset forfeiture law simply because cops found a little marijuana in his glove compartment. Since the vehicle “was used or was intended to be used to transport a controlled substance or facilitate the concealment, delivery, possession and transportation of a controlled substance in a felony violation of the Controlled Substances Act,” it is now state property, according to the Will County State’s Attorney’s Office. Anyone living in a prohibition state could easily encounter this problem.
It gets worse.
Five years ago, news of SWAT raids were prevalent on the cannabis scene. There was always an innocent person or family being blown up, shot, or just downright terrorized by militarized police forces simply because they were suspected of having marijuana. But these kinds of stories have fallen by the wayside, as of late, which could only mean that SWAT raids for pot are no longer happening, right?
Just last year, 14 SWAT officers raided the home of a Louisville, Kentucky family, using explosives and holding them at gunpoint, because they were believed to have a role in an illegal marijuana operation. No cannabis was discovered during the raid. The couple has since filed a lawsuit against the City of Louisville and several officials associated with the SWAT team, stating that they had no probable cause, the search warrant was bogus, and the overall conduct displayed during the raid “very easily could have resulted in the death of a parent or child for no good reason.”
Once again, this is a problem that continues to threaten folks living in states where weed is banned.
Meanwhile, cannabis advocacy has quickly become lobbying in Washington D.C. The primary legislative push this year is a bill (SAFE Banking Act) that would allow financial institutions to work with marijuana businesses. It would not legalize marijuana at the federal level, nor would it change any law in such a way that would protect the average pot-using citizen. It would allow cultivation centers and dispensaries, etc. to set up bank accounts. Truth be told, SAFE isn’t even a cannabis bill. It’s one designed to protect the banks from being charged with a federal crime and to protect the safety of those working with cash in state-legal businesses. But this is where the cannabis movement has gone. There is very little noise being made these days about the importance of marijuana legalization, as a whole, as a means for preventing citizens from getting arrested, losing personal property and being raided by metal gear meatheads.
Perhaps this is the reason it has been so easy for law enforcement to get away with this vile behavior once again.
TELL US, have you ever been arrested on cannabis-related charges?