October 2, 2019

Why Are So Many People Still Getting Arrested for Cannabis?

October 2, 2019
Even with legalization in many of the United States, marijuana arrests are still happening every day.

According to Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) the total number of people arrested in the United States for violating marijuana laws rose for the third consecutive year and outdid most other arrests, including for the commission of violent crimes.

There were more weed arrests for pot in 2018 than for aggravated assault, burglary, arson, fraud, disorderly conduct or sex offenses, among other crime categories, according to the the FBI’s 2018 Uniform Crime Report data, released on Sept. 30, 2019.

Of 2018’s weed arrests, 608,775, or nearly 92 percent, were for possession alone, making it more than 21 percent higher than the number of people arrested for violent crimes (521,103).

The FBI report noted that drug busts made up more than 16 percent of all arrests in the U.S. in 2018.

How is this happening when 33 states have legalized medical marijuana and 11 states have legal adult-use cannabis?

The American Civil Liberties Union reported in June 2019 that when Illinois became the 11th state in the nation to legalize adult-use cannabis, almost half of all drug busts in that state were for cannabis-related offenses. Los Angeles, Oakland and New York aren’t much better.

“Police across America make a marijuana-related arrest every 48 seconds,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said. “At a time when the overwhelming majority of Americans want cannabis to be legal and regulated, it is an outrage that many police departments across the country continue to waste tax dollars and limited law enforcement resources on arresting otherwise law-abiding citizens for simple marijuana possession.”


In 2012, the FBI reported that pot possession arrests were happening at a rate of every 48 seconds and in 2011 every 42 seconds.

With the year-over-year increase in pot arrests occurring at a time when several states – including large states like California and Illinois – have legal recreational cannabis, one would assume this would logically lead to a significant decline in marijuana-related arrests, at least, in those states.

Racially biased arrests continue.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says that the aggressive enforcement of marijuana possession laws continue to “needlessly ensnare hundreds of thousands of people into the criminal justice system and waste billions of taxpayers’ dollars. What’s more, it is carried out with staggering racial bias.”

Despite roughly equal usage rates, African Americans are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana.

The Drug Policy Alliance’s latest data shows that 46.9% percent of people arrested for drug law violations are Black or Latino, despite making up just 31.5% of the U.S. population.

“Prohibition is a failed and racist policy that should be relegated to the dust bin of history,” Altieri said.


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