Marijuana Arrests Suddenly Rose Last Year Even As States Legalized Pot

CREDIT: Shutterstock/Dylan Petrohilos

In 2014, the number of marijuana-related arrests rose for the first time in six years, despite state efforts to decriminalize the drug and the adoption of lenient recreational pot laws.

According to the FBI’s annual arrest data, 700,993 arrests were made for marijuana offenses in 2014. Roughly 88 percent of the arrests were for possession, meaning someone was arrested for having weed on them every 51 seconds. Less than 8 percent of the arrests involved selling or manufacturing it.

Between 2009 and 2013, the total number of marijuana arrests declined steadily. Last year was the first time the number spiked, up by 7,511. More than 10,000 arrests were made for possession in 2014 than in 2013.

Four states — Oregon, Colorado, Alaska, and Washington — have legalized recreational use, as well as Washington D.C. At least seven states have legalization on the table for 2016. And 20 states across the country have implemented laws that decriminalize possession by treating offenses like traffic violations instead of grounds for arrest.

“It’s unacceptable that police still put this many people in handcuffs for something that a growing majority of Americans think should be legal. A record number of states are expected to vote on legalizing marijuana next year, so we hope and expect to see these numbers significantly dropping soon,” Tom Angell, chairman of the advocacy group Marijuana Majority, explained to ThinkProgress. “There‚Äôs just no good reason that so much police time and taxpayer money is spent punishing people for marijuana when so many murders, rapes and robberies go unsolved.”

“While law enforcement was busy making nearly three quarters of a million marijuana arrests, more than 35% of murders went unsolved, the clearance rate for rape was less than 40%, and for robbery and property crimes, it was below 30%,” Director of Communications Mason Tvert of the Marijuana Policy Project said in a press release.

The FBI’s latest findings are particularly noteworthy because public support for marijuana legalization is at an all-time high. Earlier this year, Pew Research Center concluded that 53 percent of Americans favor it, and nearly 70 percent believe alcohol is a more dangerous substance.

Although the FBI report does not break down the number of arrests by ethnicity, previous studies show that black people are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for pot possession than their white counterparts, even though they use marijuana at the same rate. That means they bear the brunt of draconian sentencing laws that enforce mandatory minimums for low level offenses. Many nonviolent offenders have received life sentences for possession. As a result, decrimina-lization has profound racial implications.