Despite Marijuana Legalization Successes, Police Keep Arresting Users

New FBI statistics for 2017 even show a small increase.


Drug arrest
Vladans /

We still arrest absurd numbers of Americans just for possessing marijuana, even as legalization trends march on. For proof, look at the FBI's data on national crime trends for 2017, which the bureau released today.

Most of the media attention will be on whether violent crime is up or down (it's down). But there's another important story in those numbers: The number one reason that people get arrested is drugs. In 2,017 there were 1.6 million arrests for "drug abuse violations." That's more than were arrested for violent crimes (518,000) or property crimes (1.25 million).

Drill down even further into the FBI stats and we see how absurdly lopsided drug-war enforcement is in the United States. Of those drug arrests, only 15 percent included charges of manufacturing and sales. Fully 85 percent of drug arrests were about simply having and/or using them.

And even as the march to decriminalize and legalize marijuana marches forward, in 2017 it was still the number one drug for getting arrested. Nationwide, 36.7 percent of drug arrests were for marijuana possession. That works out to 587,000 people arrested in a single year, just for pot.

Tom Angell notes in Forbes that the number of actual arrests have increased over 2016. This increase is due to more people being arrested for possession, not manufacturing or sales—for those crimes, there was an 8 percent drop.

This could mean, as marijuana law expert Douglas Berman notes, that the ability to legally grow marijuana in several states is changing enforcement. According to the FBI stats, marijuana arrests in western states (the main area of legalization) are about half the rate of other parts of the country. Unfortunately these same states more than make for it in arrests for possession of heroin, cocaine, and other types of drugs, so even in those states the vast majority of drug arrests are for possession, not manufacturing.

A new documentary series that just hit Netflix can help us see some of the more absurd contours of the drug war. First and Last is a six-part series that follows people's first or last days in the custody of Gwinnett County Jail in Georgia. The people arrested and put in jail for weeks and even months are frequently there for drug possession and use without any sort of additional criminal activity. One young man in the show spends 30 days in lock-up for violating probation on a marijuana-possession crime with a second arrest for marijuana possession. That's it.

It will be interesting to see what happens down the line to our crime stats when marijuana finally gets taken out of the equation. Yes, that's a "when," not an "if." There will probably still be some marijuana-related arrests; some states and cities can't keep from meddling in how citizens consume their weed. But if none of those marijuana arrests from 2017 had happened at all, that would have cut drug arrests by a third.

NEXT: Timothy Diaz Sues Police Who Confused Him with Another Timothy Diaz

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  1. The drug war is a jobs program for sadists and psychopaths.

    1. The Italian Mafia in the US lost the drug trade to the Mexicans, South Americans and South East Asia.

      What happened to all those now unemployed mob goons, they signed up to become cops.

    2. Yup, you nailed it. Hell, it’s a jobs program period! End the drug war and all those cops will lose their jerbz. Can’t have that!

  2. Human nature. Path of least resistance for law enforcement (while still meeting arrest quotas) is the easy charge for possession.

  3. A few months ago, I had an employee stopped and searched. The Spokane (WA) county sheriffs found some weed. They could not arrest the guy for possession, so a deputy sheriff called me to tell me about the weed. He asked me a couple times if the guy was getting fired. The cop couldn’t bust the guy, but he tried like hell to fuck him over somehow.

    I asked the cop if what he was doing was legal. He promptly hung up.

    1. Ahahaha. That’s fucking awesome, man. Good for you! But yeah, makes sense the pig would do something like that. You know he’s gotta be seething since he can’t go after those goddamned potheads anymore, huh. Must be torture losing all that power, LOL. Fuck him.

      What was he stopped for, anyway? Broken taillight or something? Just curious.

    2. Good for you Bob.

      Just showing the cops that average people wont cave to police abuses goes a long way. This cop now knows that at least one person would not cover for him to fuck someone over.

    3. I am glad it worked out for you. As I read your comment I was waiting for the “the next day my business was raided by the health inspector, OSHA inspector, the better lawn and garden inspector”… Kinda of like when that nurse told the cop to get bent and he arrested her for not breaking the law by taking an illegal blood test.

  4. I’m sure someone will come along shortly to defend the cops and bitch about Reason cosmotarians calling for “selective enforcement” of the “laws on the books” and opining that “if you don’t like the laws you should just change the laws”. Or something equally as statist, goody goody and faggoty as that.

    1. If you don’t like the comments, vote to change the comments.

      1. If you like your comments, you can keep your comments.

  5. Those Drug Warriors are not going to give up their jobs that easily.

    1. Parasites generally fight removal from their host.

  6. DC just changed smoking weed in public from an arrest-able offense to a ticket.

    1. But the ticket comes with a beat down.

    2. They also have $200 tickets for speed camera fines so I wouldn’t get too excited.

    3. Local governments want to get rid of criminal trials but collect the fine revenue. Dont get too excited yet.

  7. Post 2012 “legalization” is the successful RE-Branding of 1937 Reefer Madness: More harmful laws based on the same lies, prejudice and greed as 1937 Reefer Madness. Still no science, sanity or humanity involved…

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