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Marijuana Arrests Increased Last Year Regardless of Legalization in Many States


For nearly a decade, cannabis arrests were on a steady decline in the United States. But over the past three years that trend has reversed and arrests are on the rise again. According to data from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Report, police arrested 663,367 people for marijuana-related violations in 2018 alone. That amounts to one arrest every 48 seconds – and is significantly up from the 659,700 cannabis arrests in 2017 and the 653,249 recorded in 2016. 

“Americans should be outraged that 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

Not only is that a clear increase over the last three years, but it is 21 percent higher than the number of people who were arrested for violent crimes in the same year (521,103). You might want to believe that these were traffickers, drug dealers and people who are dealing with illicit substances other than cannabis – but 90 percent (608,776) of those arrests were solely for cannabis possession offenses. 

Considering the vast change in the landscape of cannabis laws throughout the country, you would think the number of arrests would decrease in the past several years, not steadily increase. Unfortunately, it seems that members of law enforcement are still finding ways to arrest people for cannabis – whether it be in states where the substance remains illegal, or finding ways around legal cannabis, such as arrests for public consumption.

“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.”

While this doesn’t reach the 2007 record of 872,721 marijuana-related arrests, this is a cause for concern. Where law enforcement has the option to focus their efforts on more meaningful problems – violent crimes, dealers who sell harmful substances like crack, heroin, methamphetamine and other opiates – instead they are continuing to arrest people for possession of a plant that does more to help people than any perceived harms. As NORML’s Erik Altieri said, we should be furious with this increase in arrests at a time when public opinion and the laws themselves are clearly going in the other direction.