CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – A new report released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) shows more Americans were arrested for cannabis-related violations in 2019 than for all violent crimes combined.
According to the Uniform Crime Report, which was compiled by the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division, police in the U.S. made 10,085,207 arrests in 2019. Of that total, 545,602 were for cannabis violations. That number is higher than the 495,871 individuals arrested for violent crimes and represents more than 5 percent of all arrests carried out by law enforcement that year. Cannabis arrests made up about one-third of all drug-related arrests despite being considerably safer than other illicit drugs or opioid-based prescription medications.
For some, the statistics may be surprising as a majority of states have legalized cannabis in some form. Polls show that Americans heavily favor cannabis legalization and overwhelmingly support criminal justice reform. Heavy-handed policing of non-violent crimes does not seem to match the direction most Americans want the country to take.
“Police across America make a marijuana-related arrest every 58 seconds,” said Erik Altieri, executive director at NORML. “At a time when the overwhelming majority of Americans want cannabis to be legal and regulated, it is an outrage that many 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.”
The total number of arrests only tells one part of the story. There is a notorious disparity between rates at which white people are arrested versus those from black and Latinx communities. However, the rates at which these groups consume cannabis are similar. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, black Americans are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis-related violations.
In the United States, the number of arrests for cannabis violations dropped in 2019. In 2007, there were over 800,000 cannabis arrests made by law enforcement. By 2015, the number dropped to 643,122 only to rise again in the following years. According to Drug Policy Alliance, in 2018, despite the expansion of legalization, 663,367 individuals were arrested for cannabis.
It is possible that a new presidential administration could help lower the number of arrests for cannabis. However, despite Democratic nominee Joe Biden expressing support for criminal justice reform, he has not embraced full legalization.