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Pot arrests are rising and you're paying for it

Newsweek logo Newsweek 9/29/2017 Christal Hayes

In one year, costs for marijuana arrests amounted to more than $3.6 billion.

Marijuana arrests increased last year with nearly 600,000 people being arrested on a possession charge — a staggering number that costs taxpayers billions of dollars even as the vast majority of Americans supports legalization of the drug. 

The new arrest data, released Monday by the FBI, comes at a time when nearly 30 states allow the drug for medical use and eight have legalized it recreationally. 

"It's really shocking in this era to these numbers are so high," said Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, executive director of Drug Policy Alliance. "It really makes you question why law enforcement is wasting resources and locking people up for personal use of marijuana."

The statistic is not only tolling for those targeted by the “War on Drugs,” it’s also costly for taxpayers who footed the bill for about 587,700 people to make their way through the criminal justice system last year.  

A study found that in 2010, when arrests reached about 750,000, the costs of arrests amounted to more than $3.6 billion — and Sánchez-Moreno says the cost is still in the billions, even though overall arrests are down 20 percent since its peak.

And that's not even counting the cost of lost work time and the lingering financial burden of having a criminal record that stunts future employment opportunities, she added.

Related video: Marijuana gift loophole grows in Washington, D.C. (provided by AP)

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It all comes as 57 percent of voters think legalization of pot would make society better, according to a poll released in August. The same poll said 86 percent of Americans believe weed should be legalized in some capacity.

The arrest increase “only further demonstrates the need for state lawmakers to respect the will of the majority of their constituents and end the practice of marijuana prohibition once and for all," said Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, which seeks to liberalize marijuana laws.

Sánchez-Moreno said the sudden increase isn't the sign of a surge in the "War on Drugs," but might simply be a change in the way data was collected. Since 2010, the number of marijuana arrests have gone down significantly and is expected to decrease again, despite last year's uptick. 

That said, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has called on states to stop legalizing drugs and said he will push for harsher punishments for drug offenders.

Whether there will be more arrests or not, more people were arrested in 2016 for marijuana possession in this country than for all violent crimes in 2016, which includes murder, rape, aggravated assault and robbery, the Washington Post noted.

Marijuana possession remains one of the single largest arrest categories in the nation and accounts for more than 5 percent of all incarcerations, or roughly 100,000 Americans.

Related gallery: An abandoned Pepsi factory is being turned into a massive marijuana grow (provided by Business Insider)

 A former Pepsi factory that sat vacant for a decade is being reincarnated as an indoor marijuana grow - one of the largest in the pot-friendly state of Colorado.Doyen Elements, a holding company that leases real estate properties out to legal cannabis companies, bought an old bottling plant in Pueblo County. Upon completion in 2019, the facility could potentially produce up to 70,000 pounds of marijuana flower a year. According to a recent report in  Forbes, the company is one of a growing number of real estate investment firms that are making money in legal weed without actually touching the plant. Here's a sneak peak at the massive grow-op coming to Colorado in 2018. An abandoned Pepsi factory is being turned into a massive marijuana grow

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