Marijuana Arrests Are Still On The Rise, Even With Expanding Legalization

A new FBI report reveals people in America are arrested every 48 seconds for marijuana.

While the majority of states in the country have established some form of marijuana access law, marijuana arrests have not declined but slightly increased for the third year consecutive year, according to a new Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) report.

In each region of the United States except the West, people are arrested for marijuana possession more than any other federally illegal substance, according to the 2018 FBI national data report. The report also shows that police are arresting people for marijuana even more than for crimes such as aggravated assault, burglary, fraud, disorderly conduct or sex offenses.

Marijuana law reform organization NORML reported on the new FBI data. NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri commented on the contrary police action in a time where most Americans want cannabis decriminalization.

“Police across America make a marijuana-related arrest every 48 seconds,” Altieri stated. “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.”

The slight uptick in marijuana arrests represents the third year in a row that marijuana arrests increased. According to a Forbes report, in 2018 there were 663,367 marijuana arrests in the U.S. meaning every minute someone in the country is being arrested for marijuana. The new data shows a slight increase over the last several years.

The 2017 FBI data showed 659,700 cannabis busts were made by police in 2017 and 653,249 were made in 2016. Prior to 2016, FBI reports showed a steady decline in cannabis arrests for roughly a decade.

A 2019 survey just released from the Cato Institute found that 55 percent of American adults are in favor of decriminalizing marijuana, while 44 percent oppose it. Each year, the U.S. spends more than $47 billion on illicit drug arrests. According to the ACLU, enforcement of marijuana laws costs the U.S. approximately $3.6 billion a year.

The 2018 arrest data comes from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report system and represents data from participating law enforcement agencies.

Where is Marijuana Legal?

Perhaps the best way to show where marijuana is legal in the U.S. is to show where it is not. If a person lives in Idaho, South Dakota, or Nebraska they will not be able to legally access marijuana in any form.

Currently, 98.6 percent of the U.S. population lives in a state where cannabis is legal in some form. Eleven states have legalized recreational cannabis and 22 states have legalized medical marijuana only, and 14 states have legalized low-level THC for medicinal purposes.

For a more in-depth look at marijuana laws in each of the states, check out our Marijuana Legalization Map.

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