Even though more and more U.S. states continue to legalize marijuana and public approval for the plant, more U.S. citizens keep getting arrested for marijuana-related crimes. The FBI released new crime statistic on Monday, that show there were 663,367 marijuana arrests in the country in 2018. For the third year in a row, the number of marijuana-related arrests increased.
That’s one every 48 seconds, and represents an uptick from the 659,700 cannabis busts American police made in 2017, and from 2016’s total of 653,249.
The jump comes despite the fact that there are now 11 states where marijuana is legal for adults over 21.
The 2018 arrest numbers were compiled too late to have reflected much of the impact of Michigan’s November vote to legalize, and certainly don’t take into account Illinois’s subsequent move to end prohibition this year. But the data, along with those from past years, show that U.S. police are making an increasing number of annual cannabis arrests even as public attitudes and state laws move rapidly in the other direction.
Prior to 2016, the country had seen a steady decline in cannabis arrests for roughly a decade, according to the annual FBI reports.
How is that possible? The crime stats from the FBI don’t offer an explanation, only raw data. However, it was clear that arrests have increased in areas where marijuana is not yet legal.
In the West, where many states have legalized cannabis, marijuana possession arrests accounted for only 13.4 percent of all such arrests nationwide. It’s a different story in other parts of the country, however, with the most arrests happening in the Northeast (48.9 percent), with the Midwest (45.8 percent) and the South (44.8 percent) not far behind.
“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,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said in a statement.
Altieri’s right about the “majority of Americans,” if the polls are to be believed. For example, Gallup found in 2018 that two out of every three Americans supports legalization of marijuana. That is a new high for Gallup, which has asked this same question about the issue for a half century.
Of last year’s marijuana arrests, 608,775, or almost 92 percent, were for possession alone.
There were more busts for marijuana last year than arrests for aggravated assault, burglary, arson, fraud, disorderly conduct or sex offenses, among other crime categories.
Meanwhile, police only cleared 33 percent of rapes, 30 percent of robberies and 14 percent of burglaries by making an arrest.
“Prohibition is a failed and racist policy that should be relegated to the dust bin of history,” Altieri, of NORML, said. “An overwhelming majority of Americans from all political persuasions want to see it brought to an end. Instead of continuing the disastrous practices of the past, it is time lawmakers at all levels begin to honor the will of their constituents and support a sensible marijuana policy focused on legalization and regulation.”
Drug busts made up more than 16 percent of all arrests in the U.S. in 2018, the FBI reported.
The nonprofit group Cage-Free Cannabis, a social justice nonprofit that has helped lead efforts to expunge cannabis-related criminal records through National Expungement Week and other programs, agreed that the FBI’s data highlights ongoing problems with how our nation handles drugs.
“The War on Drugs isn’t over. The war on cannabis consumers and patients isn’t even over: it’s escalating, and we know from past experience that it’s disproportionately affecting communities of color,” the group said in an emailed statement. “The increase in arrests for cannabis offenses underscores the need for immediate federal legalization, automated expungement, and repair of the harms done by prohibition.”
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