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FBI crime report reveals a surge in nonviolent drug arrests

Opinion polls reveal that most people in South Carolina and around the country feel that the war on drugs has been largely ineffective and believe that the issue should be treated as a public health rather than a criminal problem. However, figures from the latest FBI Uniform Crime Report shows that arrests for drug violations continue to increase despite public opinion and laws being passed in several states that either legalize or decriminalize marijuana.

According to the FBI data, law enforcement agencies across the country made in excess of 1.57 million drug arrests in 2016. This figure represents a 5.63 percent year-over-year increase and is higher than the number of arrests made for all violent crimes combined. More than four out of 10 of those charged with drug crimes in 2016 were taken into custody on marijuana-related charges, and the overwhelming majority of these arrests were for simple possession.

The war on drugs is often portrayed as a battle with violent cartels and murderous traffickers, but the FBI figures reveal that less than 16 percent of those arrested on drug charges in 2016 were taken into custody for offenses more serious than possession. The data also suggests that drug enforcement disproportionately targets minority communities. While African Americans make up just 13 percent of the population as a whole, they account for more than a third of those serving time in state prisons for drug possession.

Even minor drug offenses can carry severe penalties if a conviction is obtained, but prosecutors work under heavy caseloads and may be willing to settle drug possession cases even when the evidence is strong. Criminal defense attorneys may encourage clients who are facing drug charges to remain calm and cooperate with police, as truculent behavior could make it more difficult for them to reach an agreement with prosecutors during plea negotiations.

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