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New Report: Marijuana Arrests Increased in 2017 Despite Legalization

by Wes Messamore, published

According to FBI statistics released this week, marijuana arrests in the United States actually increased to 659,700 in 2017 over 2016's total of 653,249. That's despite the fact that in 2017, the number of states that legalized marijuana for medicinal or recreational use reached a total of 29 (plus Washington DC).

As 2016 came to a close, the biggest winner in the hotly contested election seemed to be marijuana legalization, which passed at the ballot box in eight different states, bringing the total number of states to do so to 28 before West Virginia became the 29th state by legislative action last year.

Clearly the sea change in state legislative policy regarding the notorious plant hasn't translated into an actual change in outcomes on the state and federal police side of things, even as legal marijuana grows into a legitimate, multi-billion dollar industry.

Under the Trump administration, the FBI has changed how it reports these data, obscuring the number of marijuana arrests in the United States each year. However, with some diligent cross referencing and number crunching, Tom Angell, a contributor at Forbes, was able to tease out the shocking figures for 2017.

The numbers did show a slight decrease in the amount of arrests for sales and production of marijuana (from 65,734 in 2016 to 60,418 in 2017), but arrests for possession amazingly increased to a rate of one marijuana arrest somewhere in the United States every 48 seconds for the entire year.

Don Murphy of the Marijuana Policy Project, pointed out the glaring policy malfunction these figures represent: "At a time when more than 100 deaths per day are caused by opioid overdoses, it is foolish to focus our limited law enforcement resources on a drug that has caused literally zero."

NORML Political Director Justin Strekal added:

"Actions by law enforcement run counter to both public support and basic morality. In a day and age where twenty percent of the population lives in states which have legalized and nearly every state has some legal protections for medical cannabis or its extract, the time for lawmakers to end this senseless and cruel prohibition that ruins lives."

The news comes even as Seattle court judges recently decided to vacate the marijuana possession charges of over 500 individuals stretching back 15 years in light of the state's new, more tolerant drug policy.

And just this week a representative in the Pennsylvania legislature introduced a bill to legalize marijuana for recreational use by adults over the age of 21 in the commonwealth. The bill would build on the current legal infrastructure that allows for the use of marijuana in Pennsylvania for medical reasons.

If arrest numbers for possession continue to mount, even as more states roll back 1970s Nixon Era prohibitions, at least on marijuana, legislators will be called on by voters to reign in the police, and the push for federal protections for marijuana consumers will reach an all time high.

Photo Credit: Zapylaiev Kostiantyn /

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