Despite marijuana legalization in 11 states and widespread decriminalization, police still focus on arresting Americans for cannabis possession.
A new crime report produced by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program found there were 663,367 marijuana arrests in the United States last year. That amounts to one cannabis arrest every 48 seconds. More alarming, however, is that the FBI’s data shows the marijuana arrests have increasing each year for the past three consecutive years. There were 663,367 cannabis-related arrests in 2017, an increase from 653,249 arrests in 2016.
The data was compiled by the FBI after local police agencies shared their crime data with the federal agency. The numbers reported that more than 90% of these marijuana-related arrests were for possession alone. Furthermore, cannabis arrests outnumbered arrests for burglary, sexual assault, arson, fraud, and disorderly conduct.
“Despite cannabis being decriminalized in over half of the country, a growing number of states enacting laws to legalize adult-use and medical cannabis, and the reality that two-thirds of Americans support legalization, cannabis arrests continue to rise,” Steve Hawkins, the executive director for the Marijuana Policy Project, told The Fresh Toast. “This new arrest data is a stark reminder that cannabis prohibition is far from over.”
Hawkins noted that focus on marijuana arrests distract police nationwide from focusing on more serious crimes. The same FBI data reported that only 62% of murders, 33% of rapes, 30% of robberies, and 53% of aggravated assaults were cleared nationwide in 2018. A study published in Policy Quarterly last year demonstrated that clearance rates for violent crimes increased following marijuana legalization in both Washington and Colorado. Clearance rates for property crimes also rose in these states, while declining nationwide.
“Moreover, in the absence of other compelling explanations, the current evidence suggests that legalization produced some demonstrable and persistent benefit in clearance rates, benefits we believe are associated with the marijuana legalization proponents’ prediction that legalization would positively influence police performance,” researchers said.
As advocates like Hawkins emphasized, marijuana legalization impacts society in ways beneficial beyond eliminating negative impact from the War on Drugs. If nothing else, it allows police to focus on solving more important matters than prosecution marijuana possession.
“There are many reasons to support replacing prohibition with regulation, but as additional data from the new FBI report illustrates, arresting cannabis offenders prevents police from focusing on real crime,” Hawkins said.