The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Report indicates that the number of drug arrests increased nationwide in 2016 by 5.63 percent. Law enforcement agencies reported upwards of 1.5 million arrests for the violation of drug laws during that year, many of which occurred in Texas. More than 1.33 million of those arrests, accounting for 84.6 percent of the total, were for drug possession. Approximately 41 percent of the arrests were related to marijuana, the overwhelming majority of which were for marijuana possession.

The rising numbers of drug arrests are difficult to square with public opinion. According to a report from the Drug Policy Alliance, there is a growing consensus among Americans that people who otherwise obey the law should not be arrested or put in jail for simple drug possession or use. Moreover, the enforcement of drug laws reveals ethnic and racial disparities. Black people, for example, make up 13 percent of the nation’s population but account for 29 percent of the drug arrests. This is despite the fact that they use drugs at similar rates as other racial and ethnic groups.

Other countries have had success with nationwide decriminalization. In 2001, Portugal eliminated criminal penalties for low-level possession or use of any drug. The number of drug overdose cases and the occurrence of HIV/AIDS there has decreased significantly in the ensuing years.

It is impossible to say what effect decriminalization may have in the United States. The state of Maryland has attempted to pass a decriminalization bill, and Hawaii is studying it. Meanwhile, Texas residents who are facing a drug charge might benefit from legal representation. A criminal defense attorney might attempt to negotiate a plea bargain with prosecutors or challenge the search that led to the seizure of the drugs as being a violation of the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights.