Marijuana. It’s the word of the year, maybe even the decade. Everyone has heard of it, some people have used it and if you don’t fall into either of those categories you have been living under a rock for your entire life and have probably never been to a party or concert.
In the past few years we have seen a lot happen when it comes to decriminalizing and legalizing marijuana in the United States. In 2012, Colorado and Washington both legalized recreational use of marijuana while many other states have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. Other states have even declared that marijuana possession is a low priority for police forces.
While the rest of the country is publicly taking steps to legalize, or at the least decriminalize, marijuana, the New York City Police Department has wasted a total of 1 million hours making 440,000 low-level marijuana possession arrests.
Not only were these arrests a complete waste of time and money, but they are also unproductive when it comes to nurturing and educating the generation of people who will one day take over this country. According to the Drug Policy Alliance website, New York City spent $75 million or more arresting young people for marijuana possession in 2010.
For most of those young people, the arrest for possession will remain on their criminal record for the rest of their lives. Future employers may not look kindly on an arrest record, regardless of what the arrest was for. The employer may be pro-legalization of marijuana, but doesn’t want to hire anyone with a criminal record, so they’re going to make a quick pass on anyone with one.
These young people aren’t going to look at police as a force for good or as people who are meant to protect them. They’re going to look at police as people who are out to get them. And in many cases that’s truly how it seems.
If I were a police officer, it only makes sense that busting a teenager for marijuana will be easier than solving a robbery or murder. However, how can someone justify taking the easy path when it comes to the safety of the American people? You can’t.
In respect for the NYPD, the New York City crime rate has dropped dramatically in the past decade. It is possible that minimizing the number of people selling marijuana has had something to do with that. This idea is not one to be ignored, but there is a greater problem with the NYPD’s 1 million hours wasted.
As a college student, I’ve seen the LMPD break up many college parties and I’ve even seen them search people for marijuana a few times as well. It is not my intention to say that students or young people in general should be excused for breaking the law, but how they are punished could be more than a matter of public opinion.
Marijuana may end up being legalized throughout the United States, but in the meantime it seems that the amount of punishment given to young people should be lessened. Our teenage and college years should be used to become educated and to learn valuable lessons for our lives. Learning that breaking the law is not okay is something important to learn. Yet a permanent criminal record alongside fines and court fees is more than enough.
Teenagers and young adults should be required to pay fines and court fees alongside performing community service. They should not however have to suffer loss of employment or other opportunities for a crime that isn’t even illegal everywhere in the United States due to a criminal record.
Infographic courtesy of the Drug Policy Alliance and the Marijuana Arrest Research Project