Tom Angell reported for Forbes:
Marijuana possession busts comprised 37.36% of all reported drug arrests in the U.S. in 2016, and cannabis sales and manufacturing arrests accounted for another 4.18% of the total.
Added together, marijuana arrests made up 41.54% of the 1,572,579 drug busts in the country last year.
That means, based on an extrapolation, that police arrested people for cannabis 653,249 times in the U.S. in 2016.
That averages out to about one marijuana arrest every 48 seconds.
According to the same calculation, there were 643,121 U.S. cannabis arrests in 2015.
So arrests for marijuana are on the rise, even as more states legalize it.
These figures are only estimates based on the available information provided by law enforcement agencies, but represent the best current method for determining arrest rates. In addition, the FBI has ceased publishing the information about the drug arrest percentages by type of drug, making analysis even more difficult.
MPP's Morgan Fox released the following statement:
Arresting and citing more than 650,000 people a year for a substance that is objectively safer than alcohol is a travesty. Despite a steady shift in public opinion away from marijuana prohibition, and the growing number of states that are regulating marijuana like alcohol, marijuana consumers continue to be treated like criminals throughout the country. This is a shameful waste of resources and can create lifelong consequences for the people arrested. Regulating marijuana for adults creates jobs, generates tax revenue, protects consumers, and takes money away from criminals. It is time for the federal government and the rest of the states to stop ruining peoples’ lives and enact sensible marijuana policies.
Last month, I had the pleasure of attending the CATO Institute’s “Ending the Global War on Drugs” conference. The event featured a number of prominent scholars and international leaders who spoke about the impact of the U.S.-led drug war, both here and abroad. One of my favorite speakers of the day was Dr. Harry Levine, professor of sociology at Queens College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Dr. Levine has been researching the history and sociology of alcohol and drug policies for thirty years, and most recently has been working on the Marijuana Arrest Research Project, which collects and analyzes data on the immense number of marijuana possession arrests that the NYPD has made since 1996. (It should be noted here that possession of small amounts of marijuana has been decriminalized in the state of New York since 1977 — making it a violation, rather than a crime, so long as the marijuana is not in public view.) According to Levine, in New York City, misdemeanor marijuana possession accounts for more arrests than for any other crime, and because of the recent increase in the number of arrests, “it is appropriate to call this a marijuana arrest epidemic, and to describe what the NYPD has been doing as engaging in a marijuana arrest crusade.”
Dr. Levine’s lecture focused on the how and why of these marijuana possession arrests, explaining the various ways in which such arrests benefit police departments. In sum, police departments are pressured to show productivity, and these kinds of arrests are relatively safe and easy, involving “clean,” high-quality arrestees. Moreover, these arrests provide good training for rookies, deliver overtime pay for cops, allow supervisors to account for their underlings, and act as a net to get as many people into the system as possible, all at a cost borne entirely by the victims — the arrestees.
The federal government, according to Dr. Levine, actively supports these practices through the grant funding it provides to police departments. If departments receive these funds, they must justify how the money is spent, and what better, easier way to do that than with hordes of marijuana possession arrests? In short, this amounts to what LEAP board member (and fellow speaker at the conference) Leigh Maddox described as the “prostitution of the police peacekeeping mission for federal drug arrest dollars.” Dr. Levine suggests changing police productivity measures so as not to include small-time marijuana possession arrests. The punch line, Levine contends, is that rather than ending marijuana prohibition to put an end to marijuana arrests, it’s the inverse – by removing incentives for marijuana arrests we can move closer to ending marijuana prohibition.
But the answer of how to transform this tangled web of power, profit, incentive, and corruption remains unanswered. Sadly, such change is unlikely to be initiated by truth-telling law enforcement officers, or at least, active-duty ones. Last week, the New York Times reported on the consequences faced by two law enforcement officers who dared to express dissent with current drug policies. Both Bryan Gonzalez, a Border Patrol agent in New Mexico, and Joe Miller, a probation officer in Arizona, were fired from their positions — Gonzalez for questioning the war on drugs (specifically, the war on marijuana), Miller for expressing support for the decriminalization of marijuana. Fortunately, organizations like LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) provide a forum for current and former members of law enforcement to express their frustrations with the harms and futility of our present drug policies and to support a system of drug regulation rather than prohibition. Unfortunately, many active-duty law enforcement members are reluctant or unwilling to speak out, and with good reason, in light of the sanctions faced by Gonzalez and Miller noted above.
On a positive note, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that low-level marijuana possession arrests have fallen 13 percent in New York City since a September directive issued from Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly cautioning officers to lay off the wrongful arrests of those possessing a small amount of marijuana concealed from public view. Hey … at least it’s something.
A frequent claim made by opponents of marijuana policy reform is that hardly anybody is ever really arrested for low-level marijuana offenses. But like most prohibitionist arguments, that's a lie.
In California, where marijuana possession was “decriminalized” in 1976 and medical marijuana legalized 20 years later, the state Department of Justice reports that law enforcement conducted a record 78,492 marijuana arrests in 2008. About 80% of these (61,366) were for mere possession – not sale or cultivation.
The California-based Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ) took a long look at trends for marijuana arrests in the state and revealed some disturbing information. In its recent report to the California Legislature, CJCJ showed that the arrest rate for marijuana possession has skyrocketed in California – up 127% – between 1990 and 2008. But during the same period, arrests for all other offenses in California decreased by 40% – including other drug possession, which sank by nearly 30%. The arrest rate for marijuana sales and manufacturing even decreased 21% during this period.
You can’t help but conclude from this data that California’s police agencies have developed an almost singular focus on marijuana possession as their top law enforcement priority. This is shocking, not only because most Californians now say they want marijuana legal, but because it’s a dangerous and irresponsible use of limited public safety resources.
Last year, while California’s law enforcement officers were rounding up a record number of marijuana consumers, almost 60,000 reported violent crimes never resulted in an arrest.* Thanks to decriminalization in California, these arrests usually don't result in jail or lengthy detainment, but they do take real police time and other criminal justice resources.
Anyone unfortunate enough to have been a victim of an unsolved crime should support repealing marijuana prohibition and freeing up police to focus on public safety rather than consensual adult activity that's no more harmful than drinking beer or wine.
*Source: FBI, Crime in the U.S., 2008
U.S. marijuana arrests declined somewhat in 2008, according to figures released by the FBI today. According to the just-released Uniform Crime Reports, U.S. law enforcement made 847,863 arrests on marijuana charges last year, 89 percent of which were for possession, not sale or manufacture – more arrests for marijuana possession than for all violent crimes combined. One American was arrested on marijuana charges every 37 seconds.
Marijuana arrests peaked in 2007 at over 872,000, capping five years of all-time record arrests.
The new report comes on the heels of the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, released Sept. 10, which showed an increase in both the number and percentage of Americans who admit having used marijuana. In 2003, when marijuana arrests set what was then an all-time record of 755,186, 40.6 percent of Americans aged 12 and over said they had used marijuana. In 2008, that figure was 41 percent, or 102,404,000 Americans willing to tell government survey-takers that they had used marijuana.
Apparently, massive numbers of arrests didn’t curb marijuana use.
“This slight dip in the number of marijuana arrests provides a small amount of relief to the tens of millions of American marijuana consumers who have been under attack by their own government for decades,” said Marijuana Policy Project executive director Rob Kampia in a statement issued by MPP today. “It’s time to stop wasting billions of tax dollars criminalizing responsible Americans for using a substance that’s safer than alcohol, and to put an end to policies that simply hand this massive consumer market to unregulated criminals.”
To put that arrest figure in perspective, it’s equivalent to arresting every man, woman and child in the city of San Francisco – plus about 23,000 more people from nearby suburbs – in just one year. Do you feel safer?
Every year around this time, Project Censored recognizes the 25 "most censored" news stories from the prior year -- stories of great public significance that got little or no attention from the mass media. This year, they've honored MPP and NORML's Paul Armentano for pointing out the alarming rise in marijuana arrests.
Since The Project Censored materials were written, the latest FBI Uniform Crime Reports survey has been released, showing yet another marijuana arrest record.