Americans are shifting on marijuana. More than half of them think it should be regulated like alcohol and cigarettes, 18 states have passed legislation approving it for medical use and Washington State and Colorado have legalized it for recreational use, but it remains illegal under federal law. And the arrests continue — one every 42 seconds, and 86 percent of those are simply for possession, according to the Marijuana Policy Project.
In 2011, marijuana possession arrests totaled 663,032 — more than arrests for all violent crimes combined. Possession arrests have nearly doubled since 1980, according to an FBI report, while teen marijuana use recently reached a 30-year high.
President Obama said last month that going after recreational pot users in states where it is legal is not "a top priority" for his administration, which echoes a promise he made in 2008 not to interfere with states' medical marijuana laws. Since then, his administration has aggressively targeted dispensaries that are in compliance with state law.
Taxpayers have shouldered the cost of arresting and incarcerating hundreds of thousands of people for the possession of marijuana, often in small quantities for personal use. Some national estimates put the annual cost of marijuana arrests above $10 billion, and low-level arrests for marijuana possession cost New York City alone $75 million in 2010. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed decriminalizing possession of 15 grams or less — even when flashed in public view — last week in his State of the State address.
"Every year, this process needlessly scars thousands of lives and wastes millions of dollars in law enforcement resources, while detracting from the prosecution of serious crime," Cuomo said. "It’s not fair, it’s not right. It must end, and it must end now."