Though significant progress has been made in turning the cultural tide regarding marijuana, new statistics released by the FBI this week show that the work is long from finished.
Law enforcement made more than 700,000 cannabis-related arrests in 2014, of which 88.4 percent were just for marijuana possession. That’s one U.S. citizen arrested for marijuana every 51 seconds, for the entirety of 2014.
Arrests made for marijuana possession alone had been on the decline since a high of 775,137 in 2007. The 2014 figure represents a small uptick, though, from the 609,570 arrests in 2013.
Tom Angell, chairman of the drug policy reform group Marijuana Majority, said that the new figures show that law enforcement priorities are diverging from the rest of the country’s:
“It’s unacceptable that police still put this many people in handcuffs for something that a growing majority of Americans think should be legal,” he said. “A record number of states are expected to vote on legalizing marijuana next year, so we hope and expect to see these numbers significantly dropping soon.”
Angell also noted that while marijuana arrests have gone up, the number of solved violent crime cases is at an historic low — one third of murder cases in 2013 have yet to be solved.
“There’s just no good reason that so much police time and taxpayer money is spent punishing people for marijuana when so many murders, rapes and robberies go unsolved,” said Angell.
Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, an anti-legalization group, argues that the uptick in arrests is a natural outgrowth of legalization, and doesn’t mean that more people are being put in jail for marijuana use.
“Those getting arrest violations are usually people who are using out in public, being pulled over for driving and using, etc.,” he said. “What alcohol legalization teaches us is that by simply legalizing a drug we are not guaranteeing fewer arrests — indeed in the case of alcohol we have more arrests than ever.”
Regardless, even minor offenses cost taxpayer money. “These numbers refute the myth that nobody actually gets arrested for using marijuana,” said Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project. “As long as we have these silly laws on the books, law enforcement resources will be wasted on enforcing them. It’s time for state officials to step up and end the outdated policy of marijuana prohibition.”
Photo Credit: Tony Webster