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Marijuana Arrests Are At a 20-Year Low

But people are still getting busted for weed possession almost every minute.
Marijuana arrests are dropping. Image: Ian Sane/Flickr

Marijuana-related arrests are the lowest they've been in 20 years, but someone's still getting busted for weed a little more than once every minute.

According to new statistics released by the FBI on Monday, there were 574,641 arrests in 2015 for marijuana possession, which is the lowest it's been since 1996. Between 2011 and 2014, possession arrests hovered above 600,000. And since possession arrests peaked at 800,000 in 2007, that's a 25 percent decrease.


As pot gets increasingly normalized, with 10 states considering medical or adult use marijuana legalization in this year's election, law enforcement may be less likely to see it as a threat. The divide between federal and state laws is also becoming an increasingly absurd policy to enforce. Even Hillary Clinton mentioned in Monday's debate that the prevalent prison sentences for nonviolent crimes, like marijuana possession, are unnecessary.

The drop in weed possession arrests likely results from from adult use policies in places like Colorado, where all marijuana-related arrests have plummeted in recent years, Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, told Motherboard. "The recent decline in arrests in New York City, as well as in other major metropolitan areas that have imposed decriminalization ordinances in recent years, is also likely playing a role in this nationwide decline."

According to estimates from the American Civil Liberties Union, taxpayers spent $3.6 billion in 2013 on enforcing antiquated marijuana possession laws.

While this decline represents progress for the marijuana law reform movement, it also provides stark evidence that weed busts are still happening en masse, even if it seems otherwise in places like Brooklyn or California, where it's easy to publicly smoke a joint sans hassle (if you're white), or to get a medical marijuana recommendation. But even New York City and California see cumulatively nearly 40,000 marijuana arrests per year.

According to estimates from the American Civil Liberties Union, taxpayers spent $3.6 billion in 2013 on enforcing antiquated marijuana possession laws. Moreover, blacks are four times more likely than whites to get arrested for weed, despite fairly equal rates of use among the two demographics. Meanwhile, more than 60 percent of Americans think weed should be legal.

"Polls now consistently show that a growing majority of Americans supports full legalization, and it's about time more politicians and law enforcement caught up," said Tom Angell, chairman at Marijuana Majority, an advocacy group.

"Our movement is set to more than double the number of states with legalization this November, and we won't stop pushing until the day when no one is put into handcuffs or cages just because they choose to consume cannabis."

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