News & Politics

Why Are Law Enforcement Officials Making More Marijuana Arrests Than Ever?

This uptick in arrests comes even though pot remains widely used, available, and perceived of as safe by most Americans.

Photo Credit: Naypong / Shutterstock.com

The following first appeared on the NORML Blog

Law enforcement in many states are making a greater number of marijuana arrests than ever before despite polling data showing that the majority of Americans believe that the adult use of the plant ought to be legal.

According to a just published report, “Marijuana in the States 2012: Analysis and Detailed Data on Marijuana Use and Arrests,” which appears on the newly launched RegulatingCannabis.com website, police made an estimated 750,000 arrests for marijuana violations in 2012 – a 110 percent increase in annual arrests since 1991. Yet, despite this doubling in annual marijuana arrests over the past two decades, there has not been any significant reduction in marijuana consumption in the United States the report found.

In 2012, marijuana arrests accounted for almost half (48.3 percent) of all drug arrests nationwide. Marijuana arrests accounted for two-thirds of more of all drug arrests in five states: Nebraska (74.1 percent), New Hampshire (72 percent), Montana (70.3 percent), Wyoming (68.7 percent) and Wisconsin (67.1 percent).

From 2008 to 2012, seventeen state-level jurisdictions experienced an average annual increase in marijuana arrests, the report found. South Carolina (11.6 percent) and the District of Columbia (7.7 percent) experienced the highest overall percentage increase in arrests during this time period. By contrast, annual marijuana arrests fell nationwide by an average of 3.3 percent from 2008 to 2012.

Overall, the study reported that the five state-level jurisdictions possessing the highest arrest rates for marijuana offenses are the District to Columbia (729 arrests per 100,000 citizens), New York (577), Louisiana (451), Illinois (447) and Nebraska (421). District of Columbia lawmakers decriminalized the adult possession of marijuana earlier this month.

The two states possessing the lowest marijuana arrest rates are California and Massachusetts, the report found. Both states decriminalized marijuana possession offenses in recent years.

Stated the report’s author, Shenondoah University professor Jon Gettman, “After a generation of marijuana arrests, nearly 19 million and counting since 1981, the results are that marijuana remains widely used, not perceived as risky by a majority of the population, and widely available. The tremendous variance in use and arrests at the state level demonstrate why marijuana prohibition has failed and is not a viable national policy.”

Paul Armentano is the deputy director of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) and serves as a senior policy advisor for Freedom Leaf, Inc. He is the co-author of the book, Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? (Chelsea Green, 2013).

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