The FBI reports that 2019 saw a fall in the number of marijuana-related arrests for the first time since 2015, but that the total still exceeds those made for all violent crimes combined.
The data comes courtesy of the national Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program and is presented in the FBI’s “Crime in the United States” 2019 report. It reveals that 545,602 arrests were made by law enforcement officers in 2019 for cannabis-related offenses and that most of these arrests – 53 percent – were made in the northeast. This amounts to a drop of 18 percent compared to 2018 when 663,367 cannabis arrests were made, while 2017 was not much different with its marijuana arrest figure standing at 659,700. Marijuana arrests peaked around a decade ago when more than 800,000 were made for cannabis offenses.
The FBI’s report details that 495,871 violent crime arrests were made in 2019, which is almost ten percent less than those for marijuana-related offenses. Of the cannabis arrests, 92 percent were for simple possession while these arrests comprised 35 percent of all drug arrests.
Commenting on the latest FBI arrest data, Erik Altieri, NORML executive director, said it’s high time for law enforcement in America to refocus its priorities especially given consistent polling that shows most people are in favor of legalizing cannabis.
“Police across America make a marijuana-related arrest every 58 seconds,” he said. “At a time when the overwhelming majority of Americans want cannabis to be legal and regulated, it is an outrage that many police departments across the country continue to waste tax dollars and limited law enforcement resources on arresting otherwise law-abiding citizens for simple marijuana possession.”
The reasons behind the first reduction in US marijuana arrests since 2015 are multi-faceted but it’s clear that a sharp decline in cannabis arrests in Texas last year played a big part. In 2019, 50,000 fewer arrests for marijuana offenses were made in Texas compared to 2018. This is because numerous prosecutors said they would no longer pursue convictions for marijuana-related offenses since the legalization of hemp under the 2018 Farm Bill meant it was now necessary to legally distinguish hemp from cannabis through prohibitively expensive and back-logged lab testing. This state of affairs led the largest law enforcement agency in Texas to instruct its officers not to arrest people for low-level cannabis offenses. Austin Police Department went so far as to effectively decriminalize low-level cannabis possession offenses earlier this year.
Supreme Court Justice John Roberts’ 2019 report revealed federal prosecutions of cases involving cannabis fell by around 25 percent that year even while prosecutions as a whole for drug-related crimes increased. The Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) 2019 report showed that while the number of cannabis plants seized increased, there was a 16 percent drop in marijuana-related arrests compared to 2018.