More States Have Made Marijuana Legal, So Why Are More People Getting Arrested?
Hundreds of thousands of people, particularly those who are poor and nonwhite, are still arrested annually for simple possession of marijuana.
The latest crime statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigations show a strange trend has continued. The more states that legalize cannabis, the more people across the country get arrested for marijuana-related crimes.
According to the FBI’s annual Crime in the United States report, released in September, there were 659,700 marijuana arrests in 2017. In 2016, that number was 653,249. Overall, marijuana arrests made up more than 40% of the 1.6 million drug-related arrests in 2017 across the country.
So, why is that happening?
Based on the FBI numbers, arrests for sales and manufacturing are actually down slightly from 2016. However, what’s gone up are arrests for possession. About 91% of all the arrests were on possession charges.
Counter to Public Opinion
To put the number of marijuana arrests in perspective, there were 518,617 arrests in 2017 for violent crime, far less than those arrested on marijuana-related charges.
“Actions by law enforcement run counter to both public support and basic morality,” Justin Strekal, the political director for NORML, said in a statement. He pointed out that these arrests are going up “in a day and age where 20 percent of the population lives in states which have legalized and nearly every state has some legal protections for medical cannabis or its extract.”
Race and economics also play a role in the reaction to drug arrests. Reports have shown that minorities and those in disadvantaged communities are far more likely to get arrested than those who are white and living in middle to upper class neighborhoods.
For example, a recent report by the Southern Poverty Law Center found that black people are three times more likely to get arrested for pot possession in Louisiana.
Arrests for marijuana possession and marijuana sales had actually fallen for a decade until 2016. In both 2016 and 2017, arrests went up.
This change comes at a time when nine states have legalized marijuana for recreational use and 30 have legalized medical marijuana. Two more states are considering legalizing adult-use marijuana on the November 2018 ballot (Michigan and North Dakota).
Voters in Utah and Missouri are considering legalizing medical marijuana.
However, the federal government still lists marijuana as a Schedule I illegal drug that has no medical benefit. Many states still completely prohibit the possession or use of marijuana.
The region with the biggest percentage of drug arrests involving marijuana is the Midwest where more than 53 percent of all drug arrests in 2017 involved marijuana. In the Northeast, the number was 49.6 percent, while in the South it was 48.7 percent.
The only region with significantly low marijuana arrests was the West, where many states have legalized both adult-use and medical marijuana. Only 15 percent of all drug-related arrests involved marijuana.