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FBI report reveals that the drug war is intensifying

Washington is one of several states to have legalized marijuana for recreational use, but this has not been enough to curtail the war on drugs or reduce the number of people arrested on minor narcotics charges. The FBI's latest Uniform Crime Report reveals that drug arrests rose by 5.63 percent in 2016 to more than 1.57 million, and an overwhelming 84.6 percent of those taken into custody were charged with simple possession. This works out to one drug arrest every 25 seconds.

The ramping up of the drug war comes at a time when large sections of the population have come to believe that drug use is a public health and not a criminal issue and a growing number of national and international organizations have called for decriminalization. Polls show that views on substance abuse are softening even in traditionally conservative parts of the country, and groups including the World Health Organization, the American Public Health Organization, the International Red Cross and the Organization of American States have advocated for the repeal of narcotics laws that criminalize drug possession.

The FBI data also reveals that a disproportionate number of drug arrests are being made in minority communities. African-Americans make up just 13 percent of the overall population, but they account for more than a third of those serving time in state prisons for drug possession. This is despite data showing that drug use is fairly consistent across racial lines.

While Washington residents no longer need to fear being arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana, they can still face severe sanctions for possessing drugs that voters have yet to decriminalize. However, the criminal justice system would grind to a halt if all drug charges led to jury trials, and experienced criminal defense attorneys may urge prosecutors to reduce penalties in minor narcotics cases in return for a speedy resolution.

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