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FBI data reveals that the war on drugs is far from over

A ballot measure legalizing marijuana for recreational use was approved by California voters in November 2016, and opinion polls show that even the residents of traditionally conservative states are beginning to lose patience with the way authorities are waging war on drugs. More and more people view drug use as a public health rather than criminal issue, but that did not prevent law enforcement agencies across the country arresting 1.57 million people for drug-related offenses in 2016 according to FBI crime data.

The bureau's latest Uniform Crime Report reveals that police are stepping up their drug enforcement efforts despite growing public opposition to the drug war. Drug arrests were up by 5.63 percent in 2016 over the previous year, and the figures indicate that more than 84 percent of these arrests were for simple possession. Bills legalizing marijuana for recreational or medical use have been passed in dozens of states, but that did not prevent law enforcement from arresting more than 600,000 individuals for marijuana-related offenses in 2016.

The FBI crime data also suggests that minority communities may be being targeted disproportionately. While African Americans account for just 13 percent of the overall population, they make up more than a third of those incarcerated in state prisons for drug offenses. The statistics also show that law enforcement in the United States is increasingly at odds with international groups and experts. During the last few years, the World Health Organization, the International Red Cross, the Organization of American States and the American Public Health Association have all called for drug possession to be decriminalized.

Even minor drug offenses can carry severe penalties, but prosecutors may be willing to reduce these charges to secure a plea agreement and avoid the cost of a trial. When prosecutors are reluctant to negotiate, experienced criminal defense attorneys may remind them that juries are made up of ordinary people and cite polls showing that the public is tiring of the war on drugs.

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