The FBI just released new stats on the numbers of people arrested in the United States. A close look at these figures reveals some important trends about the war on drugs in general and the war on cannabis in particular. One of the most interesting is that marijuana arrests are lower than they’ve been since 1996. Despite this drop, there’s still an average of one person busted for marijuana every minute.
The War On Drugs
The new stats are for 2015. That year, there were just under 10.8 million arrests made in the U.S. Of those arrests, nearly 1.5 million were for “drug abuse violations.” To put that into context, the FBI reported that there were 505,681 arrests for what the agency calls “violent crime.”
According to these numbers, there were almost three times as many people arrested for drug crimes than there were for violent crimes. Many critics of the war on drugs claim that drug laws end up putting too many non-violent offenders behind bars. And the most recent stats seem to back up that claim.
The numbers provided by the FBI highlight not only how many people are arrested for drug crimes, but how many of those arrests are for marijuana. Last year, marijuana arrests accounted for 43.2 percent of all drug crimes. And the huge majority of those were for simple possession.
To be more specific, there were right around 643,000 people arrested for marijuana-related crimes in 2015. Out of that number, roughly 574,000 were for marijuana possession.
That number has been steadily declining over the past 20 years or so. In 2007, police arrested more than 800,000 people for marijuana crimes. 775,000 of them were for possession. Since then, the U.S. has seen an almost 25 percent drop in the number of people arrested for marijuana possession.
Despite the steady decrease in marijuana-related arrests, the numbers are still staggering. If you were to average out the number of individuals arrested for marijuana-related crimes during 2015, it would work out to roughly one arrest every 49 seconds.
All of these stats seem to support the Drug Policy Alliance’s statement that “marijuana arrests are the engine driving the U.S. war on drugs.” But things may be changing. Along with the steady decline in marijuana arrests, there is now more widespread support for cannabis legalization than ever before. And later this fall, nine states will vote on new marijuana laws. Five of them will be choosing whether or not to legalize recreational marijuana.