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Nearly 1.5 Million People Were Arrested for 'Drug Abuse' In 2015, FBI Report Says

By McCarton Ackerman 10/17/16

According to the report, authorities made more arrests per day for simple marijuana possession than cocaine or heroin.

Nearly 1.5 Million People Were Arrested for 'Drug Abuse' In 2015, FBI Report Says

The War on Drugs is still very much alive and well in the U.S. A new crime report released last week by the FBI shows that nearly 1.5 million "drug abuse" arrests were made last year by law enforcement.

The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program report, titled “2015 Crime in the United States,” marked 1,488,707 total arrests for drug abuse that year. “Drug abuse” was defined as the sale, trafficking and possession of drugs, according to a report by Anti-Media. The FBI noted that the amount reflected the numbers of times people were arrested, not the number of individuals.

However, 83.9% of these arrests were for mere possession, compared to just 16.1% for drug sales or manufacturing. Marijuana possession made up 38.6% of drug abuse arrests. The Washington Post pointed out that in 2015, there were over 1,500 arrests per day in the U.S. for simple marijuana possession. Following pot on the list were “other dangerous non-narcotic drugs” (20.2%), and heroin or cocaine and their derivatives (19.9%).

Given the breakdown of these arrests, it’s unsurprising that the U.S. prison system is filled with people incarcerated for mere possession. Statistics from the Bureau of Prisons show that 46.4% (83,982) were locked up for drug offenses. The Bureau of Justice has justified these numbers in their own statistics by asserting that 99.5% of federal drug offenders are in prison for trafficking.

Drug abuse arrests were more common than any other category, with property crimes (1,463,213), drunk driving (1,089,171) and “other assaults” (1,081,019) trailing slightly behind. The number of arrests for other crimes including murder and non-negligent manslaughter (11,092) pales in comparison.

But while peeling back the War on Drugs will be a slow process at best, there have been gradual shifts towards placing non-violent offenders in treatment instead of prison and abolishing excessively long sentences for possession. President Obama has commuted 673 sentences for non-violent offenders during his two terms so far. Many of these prisoners were serving life sentences.

“While I expect that the President will continue to grant commutations through the end of this administration, the individualized nature of this relief highlights the need for bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation, including reforms that address excessive mandatory minimum sentences,” said White House Counsel Neil Eggleston in a statement last month. “Only the passage of legislation can achieve the broader reforms needed to ensure our federal sentencing system operates more fairly and effectively in the service of public safety.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.

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