Pot Possession Arrests Skyrocket in West Virginia Community

Marijuana is legal for recreational use in two states and for medical use in nearly two dozen others, but that hasn’t kept some law enforcement officials from taking a hard line against its use and cultivation.

Washington Post senior editor Marc Fisher filed this dispatch on the drug war from Hancock County, West Virginia, where arrests for marijuana possession have soared. One drug enforcement agent called the area “ground zero for the drug war” given its location between Pittsburgh and the Midwest. 

Fisher examines the reasons for the high arrest rate, which include the view of among some law enforcement officials that marijuana is a gateway to harder drugs. Another factor: federal funding that some officials see as an incentive to push for higher arrest rates.

Grants to states and localities are not contingent on increasing drug arrests, but federal officials acknowledge that many police chiefs and sheriffs believe racking up arrests bolsters their case for money they have come to depend on.

“Every year, you’d say, ‘This is what we did, these are our arrests,’ and you’d get the federal money,” says Art Watson, chief deputy sheriff in Hancock County.

The sheriff’s office uses grant money to fund one of the two deputies it assigns to the drug task force and to pay overtime to officers. Denise O’Donnell, who runs the federal Bureau of Justice Assistance, which administers the Byrne grants, says her agency is examining whether the program “is somehow incentivizing agencies to make more low-level arrests.”

– Read the entire article at The Oregonian.