After hitting a two-decade low in 2015, marijuana arrests in the United States rose by 1.6 percent last year, according to FBI data released yesterday. The total, about 653,000, was still 25 percent lower than the 2008 peak of 873,000, although it was three times as high as the number of pot busts in 1991.
The FBI's 2016 report makes it harder than usual to figure out how many people were arrested on marijuana charges, listing total drug arrests but omitting the table breaking them down by substance. That change was part of a broader reduction in the number of tables published by the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program, from 81 to 29. Marijuana Majority Chairman Tom Angell obtained the more detailed drug arrest data from the FBI. As usual, the vast majority of marijuana arrests involved possession rather than sales or cultivation.
"Arrests for marijuana are on the rise," Angell notes, "even as more states legalize it." And that is without taking into account whatever impact having an old-fashioned pot prohibitionist as attorney general may have on marijuana arrests, almost all of which are the work of state and local law enforcement agencies. As I noted earlier this month, 28 states still treat simple possession of marijuana as a jailable offense.
"Arresting and citing [more than] half a million people a year for a substance that is objectively safer than alcohol is a travesty," says Morgan Fox, director of communications at the Marijuana Policy Project. "Despite a steady shift in public opinion away from marijuana prohibition, and the growing number of states that are regulating marijuana like alcohol, marijuana consumers continue to be treated like criminals throughout the country. This is a shameful waste of resources and can create lifelong consequences for the people arrested."