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Marijuana Arrests Keep Dropping

Marijuana arrests have dropped to their lowest level since 1991, according to a report by the FBI released in September 2021. The reason for the sharp reduction in arrests for marijuana crimes is simple: legalization. But the trend has been slow coming.

Back in 1991, marijuana arrests in the U.S. were around 300,000. From there, the arrest rate rocketed to almost 900,000 in 2007—a threefold increase since 1991—where it leveled out for a few more years. When states began legalizing marijuana in some capacity in 2011, the arrest rate took a dip but not as much as expected. Even when populated states, such as California, legalized marijuana in 2016, the rate didn’t drop. In fact, it rose a little. It took some time for the new laws to take effect. Seven states decriminalized possession of marijuana for personal use recently, but many of those new laws didn’t go into effect until 2020, for example. The arrest rate for 2020 was 350,000.

In 2007, at the peak of marijuana enforcement through arrests, the arrest rate of 900,000 represented three percent of marijuana users. The 2020 arrest rate of 350,000 was only 0.7 percent of marijuana users.

There’s also the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced marijuana users to stay indoors where they were less likely to be arrested for mere possession of recreational marijuana. Whatever the reason, Erik Altieri, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, is positive about the change.

“As more states move toward the sensible policy of legalizing and regulating cannabis, we are seeing a decline in the arrest of non-violent marijuana consumers nationwide,” he said in a September 2021 press release.

According to Altieri, “The fight for legalization is a fight for justice. While these numbers represent a historic decline in arrests, even one person being put into handcuffs for the simple possession of marijuana is too many.” 



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