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Police ignore serious crimes to arrest pot smokers

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Zach Galifianakis

Each political season, Americans seem to pick the three or so issues we're going to talk about for the next year, until we get a new president — presumably since we can only focus on so many things and still have time to watch X-Factor. This year, it's big vs. small government, job creation, and (oops, wait, what was the third?) perhaps OWS-inspired income inequality. 

Whatever the three end up being, the war on drugs — its failure and massive, ongoing costs, both economic and human — has dropped out of the national discourse, and shows no signs of coming back any time soon. Which is a shame, since it's the train wreck it's always been (and we could probably use the fifteen billion dollars a year we're spending on it.) 

A new report shows that police still spend a disproportionate amount of time and resources pursuing drug-related crimes, often at the lowest, smoking-pot-on-the-street-corner level, and often at the expense of investigating more serious crimes.

For example, despite the fact that pot has been decriminalized in New York since 1977, NYPD officers arrested over 50,000 people last year on marijuana-related charges. And at the same time: 

There's increasing evidence that the NYPD is paying less attention to violent crime. In an explosive Village Voice series last year, current and former NYPD officers told the publication that supervising officers encouraged them to either downgrade or not even bother to file reports for assault, robbery and even sexual assault. The theory is that the department faces political pressure to produce statistics showing that violent crime continues to drop.

The full article leads with a pretty harrowing story about a woman who was beaten up by two men outside a bar, couldn't get the police to investigate, investigated herself, found the names of her perpetrators, and then still couldn't get anything done. Months later, a SWAT team bust down her door in the middle of the night — 25 cops in all — to arrest a "stoner hippie" house-guest of theirs. They found a little bit of pot, destroyed her apartment, and arrested the woman's boyfriend and the guest. 

Evidence like that is always anecdotal, but the incidents, side-by-side, suggest a seriously misplaced set of priorities, a broken system with little accountability or transparency, and a debate that deserves to be reopened on the national level. 

At least, if you believe that it's self-evident that smoking a joint alone in your living room is a lesser crime than beating and robbing a woman outside a bar.