Someone is arrested in the United States for a drug-law violation every 18 seconds, an FBI report released Monday shows.
More than four-fifths of those arrests were for possession only and nearly half were for possession of marijuana. Of the 847,863 marijuana arrests -- one every 37 seconds -- 89 percent were for possession alone.
And those folks do spend time in jail. University of Maryland drug policy expert Peter Reuter told the Huffington Post that in Maryland, roughly a third of those arrested for marijuana possession spend time in jail, from a night to several days or more.
There are profound consequences to spending even a short stint in jail. "You can get get over an addiction, but you will never get over a conviction," said Jack Cole, a retired undercover narcotics detective who now heads the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) in a statement.
If the Maryland research is extrapolated to the rest of the country, then roughly a quarter million Americans spent time in jail in 2008 for possession of marijuana -- a drug used at one point by roughly half of all Americans, including the past three presidents.
Last December, LEAP commissioned a report by a Harvard University economist that found that legalizing and regulating drugs would inject tens of billions a year into the U.S. economy. In California, medical marijuana is currently taxed and generates several hundred million dollars per year in revenue for the state treasury.
"In our current economic climate, we simply cannot afford to keep arresting more than three people every minute in the failed 'war on drugs,'" said Cole. "Plus, if we legalized and taxed drug sales, we could actually create new revenue in addition to the money we'd save from ending the cruel policy of arresting users."
A spokeswoman for the White House "drug czar," Gil Kerlikowske, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ryan Grim is the author of This Is Your Country On Drugs: The Secret History of Getting High in America