As the country with the highest incarceration rate in the entire world, it should be no surprise that there are still thousands of people every year going to jail over simple possession of cannabis. Even after four different states and the District of Columbia have legalized adult possession and use of cannabis, we can still see the huge impact that prohibition has – locking up otherwise law abiding citizens over a plant, wasting tax dollars to make these arrests, to send the individuals through court and then for their housing and food while they sit in jail for months to years.
Last fall we looked at some data that showed us an alarming statistic – there is someone being arrested for marijuana possession roughly every 54 seconds. Considering how many states, counties and cities have put in place decriminalization laws, the number should not be as high as it is. On the bright side – completed data from 2015 has revealed that while marijuana arrests are still high, police are at least starting to focus on more important crimes than cannabis possession as there has been a 25% decrease since the peak of marijuana arrests in 2007.
Back in 2007, the number of people arrested for marijuana was at 872,721 – in 2015, it dropped to 643,122 in total – and that includes violation of all marijuana related laws. When you look at just the number who were arrested for possession however, it still sits at 574,641 – which makes up 89% of all drug-related arrests in the nation. Though the number is still way too high – especially when there are much bigger issues out there that police could be spending their time on – it is still a major improvement over the last couple of decades and the shifting attitudes toward marijuana are starting to show results in arrest numbers.
The last time the number of cannabis related arrests was this low, was actually back in 1996, at the time marijuana arrests had averaged between 300,000 and 400,000 from 1990-1995. Not entirely surprisingly, the number of marijuana arrests seemed to skyrocket from the time California legalized medical marijuana in 1996 and continued to climb until this last couple of years since Colorado legalized adult use of marijuana in 2012.
Hopefully, with five more states looking at the possibility of legalization this November, this trend will continue and less and less people will have to live with the headache that comes along with any sort of criminal conviction.