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20 Percent of U.S. Has Legal Weed, Arrests Still High

Russ Belville

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The Trump administration doesn’t want you to know that as we’re legalizing marijuana nationwide, there are still a troubling number of pot arrests around the country.

The latest Uniform Crime Report (UCR) has been released by the FBI, detailing the arrest data submitted by law enforcement agencies nationwide. Since 1970, the UCR has listed the total number of arrests for drugs in the United States, followed by a table breaking down the distribution of those arrests between marijuana, heroin and cocaine, synthetic or manufactured drugs (like meth and ecstasy) and other dangerous non-narcotics (like steroids).

So, for instance, in 2015, you’ll find that there were 1,488,707 total drug arrests. Marijuana sales made up 4.6 percent of those arrests and possession made up 38.6 percent.

That makes an estimated 643,121 pot arrests in the U.S.

When you visit the UCR website for 2016, you’ll find that there were 1,572,579 total drug arrests. However, the table that’s been included every year for 45 years, breaking down the percentages of drug arrests, is no longer there.

Radical Rant: Weed Is Legal for 20% of U.S. but Arrests Remain High

“UCR staff have strategically trimmed the amount of tables and refined the presentation of data in this year’s publication,” reads a disclaimer on the cover page for the UCR.

Fortunately, the intrepid Tom Angell, now writing at Forbes, wrote to the FBI and asked them why this drug data table was no longer included. An FBI spokesperson replied by email that possession busts made up 37.36 percent and sales busts made up 4.18 percent of the total drug arrests for 2016.

That’s 653,249 pot arrests in 2016.

Consider that the 2015 data covered a period when just two states—Washington and Colorado—had operational marijuana sales and legalized personal possession, and just one state—Colorado—had legalized personal cultivation for the entire year. It wasn’t until February that Alaska had legal possession and cultivation, halfway through 2015 that Oregon had legal possession and cultivation, then three-quarters through 2015 that Oregon launched legal sales.

But in 2016, we’ve had all four states with legal possession, three states with legal cultivation (all but Washington) and three states with legal sales (Alaska’s is scheduled to begin by November). On top of that, Illinois’ marijuana decriminalization began in August, and Ohio’s medical marijuana law went into effect in September.

Yet, with more legalization nationwide, we ended up with over 10,000 more pot arrests.

Radical Rant: Weed Is Legal for 20% of U.S. But Pot Arrests Are Up

In the United States, one-in-five citizens live in a state where marijuana has been legalized. Another two-in-five live in states where medical use is allowed.

So, how do we end up with more marijuana arrests? Simple. There are more marijuana smokers to arrest.

Last year, the estimated population of the United States increased by over two million people. If you calculate marijuana arrests versus the population, we’ve gone from 1 in 500 people being arrested for weed in 2015 to 1 in 495 in 2016.

But not all those 495 to 500 people smoke weed. Arrest per population doesn’t tell us much.

Instead, let’s calculate the population of monthly marijuana smokers, which was 8.3 percent of the population in 2015 and rose to 8.9 percent in 2016, and figure that into the arrest rate.

That gives us over two million more tokers in 2015, which works out to roughly 28.8 million of us. That means, we’ve gone from 1 in 41 American tokers getting arrested in 2015 to 1 in 44 last year.

That’s better, but still not good enough.

However, it’s a far cry from just 10 years ago, when we had no legal states. Back in 2007, there were 872,720 arrests—the all-time record—that worked out to one arrest per 345 people and a staggering one arrest per 20 tokers!

Radical Rant: Weed Is Legal for 20% of U.S. But Pot Arrests Are Up

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