Marijuana Arrests Are Up for the First Time Since 2009

Someone gets arrested for weed every 45 seconds in the United States.

Sep 28 2015, 7:29pm

Photo: Motherboard

With Washington, Colorado, Oregon, and the District of Columbia all legalizing recreational marijuana use in recent years, it might seem like the United States is making progress on the issue, but arrest numbers tell a different story.

The FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program revealed on Monday that an estimated 700,993 arrests were made nationwide for marijuana-related offenses in 2014, up from 693,058 in 2013. That's an average of one person arrested for a marijuana-related offense every 45 seconds.

As the pro-legalization organization Marijuana Policy Project notes, this is the first year since 2009 where arrests for marijuana-related offenses have gone up.

"It's tough to say why the arrests are up, especially considering the recent data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health that showed that really not all that much has changed in actual marijuana use patterns," Marijuana Policy Project's communication manager Morgan Fox told Motherboard. "All it shows is that in some places law enforcement is overzealously enforcing marijuana policy."

The report doesn't give a state-by-state breakdown, but does have a broad regional breakdown showing most of these arrests are made in the midwest. For example, 52 percent of marijuana possession-related arrests were made in the Midwest, compared to 44 percent in the Northeast, and 17.1 percent in the West.

What makes that figure seem even more unnecessarily high is that 88.42 percent of arrests were simply for possession, as opposed to sale and manufacturing. What's legal in Colorado, for example, and to the tune of $53 million in tax revenue for the state in 2014, could still potentially ruin your life in most of the country.

"Aside from just the emotional trauma of being arrested and the potential danger of having to be in jail for any length of time with people who might be there for violent crimes, you've got a lot of collateral consequences," Fox said. "It makes it more difficult to find a job, because you have to disclose whether or not you've been arrested. It makes it harder to get education loans. It follows people around and can have long term consequences in terms of their financial and educational opportunities."

Fox added that this is unfortunate considering the laws don't reflect popular opinion in the United States, which is swinging away from marijuana prohibition. The last Gallup poll on the issue, for example, showed that 51 percent of Americans support legalization.