FBI Data Shows Cannabis Arrests are on the Rise for Second Year in a Row

Arrests for criminal offenses related to cannabis are up for the second year in a row, according to data from the FBI. The consecutive increases tabulated by the annual FBI Uniform Crime Report come despite the continued legalization of recreational and medicinal marijuana in the United States, including four states that did so in late 2016.

Police made a total of 659,700 arrests for cannabis crimes last year, up from 653,249 the year before. The figure from 2016 was the first increase in marijuana arrests in more than a decade and this year’s data shows a continuation of that trend. More than 90 percent of the arrests for cannabis offenses, about 599,000, were for simple possession. More than 65,000 arrests for other marijuana offenses, including sales and cultivation were also made in 2017. A cannabis arrest was made an average of every 48 seconds last year, according to media reports.

Arrests for marijuana-related offenses last year were more than 21 percent higher than the 518,617 arrests for crimes of violence, according to an analysis by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). Justin Strekal, the political director for NORML, said in a press release that the increase in arrests is contrary to American public opinion about cannabis.

“Actions by law enforcement run counter to both public support and basic morality,” Strekal said. “In a day and age where twenty percent of the population lives in states which have legalized and nearly every state has some legal protections for medical cannabis or its extract, the time for lawmakers to end this senseless and cruel prohibition that ruins lives.”

Don Murphy, the director of federal policies for the cannabis reform group Marijuana Policy Project, told Forbes that the limited law enforcement resources would be better spent on more serious issues including the opioid crisis.

“At a time when more than 100 deaths per day are caused by opioid overdoses, it is foolish to focus our limited law enforcement resources on a drug that has caused literally zero,” said Murphy.

Will The Trend Continue?

Whether the two-year increase in marijuana arrests will continue for 2018 remains to seen. In states that have yet to legalize the recreational use of cannabis, prosecutors, police, and local officials are reevaluating the enforcement of laws against the possession of cannabis. Major cities including New York City, Houston, and Philadelphia have announced new policies to issue citations rather than make arrests for marijuana possession.

Many civic leaders have cited the racial disparity in drug arrests in calling for a change in cannabis enforcement policy. When officials announced an end of arrests for marijuana possession in New York City in June, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said continuing to jail people would be unjust.

“We found that in good conscience we could no longer continue to prosecute these cases without any measurable public safety benefit,” Gonzalez said.

Even New York City Police Commissioner James O’Neill agreed that arresting people for possessing cannabis isn’t always the best law enforcement strategy.

“When it comes to marijuana we always need to ensure that our enforcement is consistent with the values of fairness that are at the root of our neighborhood policing philosophy,” O’Neill said. “The bottom line is, and I’ve said this probably many times before, the NYPD has no interest in arresting people for marijuana offenses.”