Cannabis has made several milestones in the last decade. While it remains federally illegal, most American states have adopted for either medicinal or recreational use. Currently, 33 states allow the use of cannabis for medicinal reasons, while 11 states have legalized the substance for adult-use.
Cannabis still illegal under federal law
Despite the achievements, cannabis is still illegal under federal law. Even with two-thirds of Americans now supporting federal legalization, users of the substance are still a big target for crime enforcement mechanisms.
A recent report from the FBI reveals that there were more cannabis-related arrests in 2019 than for all violent crimes combined. According to the report, police arrested 545,602 people for cannabis-related crimes last year. The figure is 9% above the 495,871 people arrested for violent crimes in the same year.
Interestingly, the people arrested were not just traders, growers, or manufacturers of the substance. In most cases, they were people who use cannabis. Most of the victims, 500,395 (92%), were arrested for simple possession of the substance. These numbers highlight the unequal situation between different states, where one cannabis consumers face different consequences or none at all for cannabis use.
For instance, a marijuana consumer in one state can face a serious jail term for an act that carries no penalty in the neighbouring state. So far, cannabis has been marked as a medicinal and recreational plant, whose history dates back to eons ago. Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, cannabis was deemed essential in many states.
Erik Altieri is the Executive Director for the cannabis advocacy group NORML. Regarding this report, he said:
Police across America make a marijuana-related arrest every 58 seconds. 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.
Decreasing cannabis arrests
Even so, cannabis arrests have been on the decline since they reached an all-time peak a decade ago when the numbers hit 800,000. In 2019, arrests for cannabis actually reduced by 18 percent overall compared to 2018.
The FBI data also hinted at the areas where this year’s cannabis arrests were more likely to happen. The report found that cannabis arrests are least likely to take place in western states, which nearly all legalized cannabis. However, states in the northeast may particularly witness cannabis arrests.
In 2019, 53 percent of all drug arrests happened in northeastern America. Besides, people of colour are also at particular risk of being arrested for cannabis crimes. According to a recent ACLU report, black people were nearly four times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than their white counterparts.