Despite the growing cultural acceptance of marijuana use, arrests have ticked up significantly in the New Jersey and Pennsylvania counties adjacent to Philadelphia. Experts cite several factors, including opiate enforcement and court rulings that relaxed police search protocols.
Despite the nation’s growing acceptance of marijuana, police in the Philadelphia suburbs and South Jersey are making more pot arrests, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. Officers in the four suburban Pennsylvania counties next to Philadelphia arrested 3,100 people for marijuana possession last year, an 11 percent increase over the year before. In Burlington, Camden, and Gloucester counties in New Jersey, pot arrests jumped 40 percent from 2015 to 2016. The Inquirer’s review shows that African Americans make up an increasing share of those facing pot charges. Blacks are an estimated 40 percent of those arrested for marijuana in the region, even though they make up only 12 percent of the combined population of South Jersey and the city’s Pennsylvania suburbs.
Police, prosecutors, and defense lawyers offer a range of explanations for the surge in marijuana arrests, which can saddle people with criminal records, hefty fines and legal bills, a suspended driver’s license, and trouble with employers. In both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, recent state Supreme Court rulings have made it easier for police to search for marijuana. The high courts in both states have decreed that police only need smell the pungent odor of weed to conduct an immediate search — without the need for a warrant from the judge. “It opened the floodgates,” said Eric Morrell, a New Jersey defense lawyer. Some police commanders say they have stepped up drug enforcement to tackle the opioid epidemic, and marijuana arrests are up accordingly. Others say that the growing cultural acceptance of pot has, ironically, helped fuel the boom in arrests because people have become more flagrant in its use.