New data released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Thursday shows that arrests for marijuana offenses declined for the first time in four years in 2019, but still exceeded the number of arrests for all violent crimes combined. The data, as recorded by the national Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program, is contained in the FBI’s 2019 “Crime in the United States” report.
The report shows that 545,602 arrests for marijuana-related offenses were made by law enforcement officers in 2019. That total exceeds the 495,871 arrests for violent crimes by 9%, according to a release from the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). Among the arrests for cannabis-related offenses, more than nine out of 10 (92%) were arrests for marijuana possession only. Arrests for marijuana offenses were least likely to occur in the West, where many states have legalized cannabis, and most prevalent in the Northeast.
Erik Altieri, the executive director of NORML, said in a press release on Thursday that the time has come for law enforcement to refocus its priorities, noting that opinion polls show that a majority of Americans are in favor of laws ending the prohibition of 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.”
Marijuana Arrests Down 18% In 2019
Compared to the previous year, marijuana arrests in the U.S. decreased by about 18% in 2019. The annual total for marijuana arrests peaked about a decade ago, when more than 800,000 pot arrests were made each year.
A major driver in the reduction in arrests for marijuana offenses was Texas, which saw a drop of about 50,000 arrests last year compared to 2018. With the legalization of hemp agriculture under the 2018 Farm Bill, many prosecutors across Texas and in other states announced that they would no longer file charges for marijuana possession offenses. Prosecutors cited the prohibitive cost of lab tests to determine THC levels of a sample, a necessary step to differentiate hemp from marijuana.
Last year, Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, while campaigning for his party’s nomination for president, noted the disparities prevalent in the nation’s criminal justice system.
“We have people that have criminal convictions for doing things that two of the last three presidents admitted to doing. And so, we have a justice system that is not equal justice under the law,” Booker said in a Las Vegas television interview.
“We have people who can’t get jobs, can’t get business licenses because of nonviolent drug crimes,” he added, noting the collateral damage associated with arrests for marijuana offenses. “And especially at a time when we’re legalizing things like marijuana. In 2017, we had more marijuana possession arrests in our country than all other violent crimes combined. And so, I’m going to fight to end this.”