These figures should be regarded as estimates, because not all law enforcement agencies provide detailed arrest information to the FBI. But they do show that the annual number of marijuana arrests is down from their peak in the mid-2000s and stands at levels last seen in the mid 1990s. Marijuana use, particularly among adults, rose during this time.
Marijuana possession remains one of the single largest arrest categories in the United States, accounting for over 5 percent of all arrests last year. More than one in 20 arrests involved a marijuana possession charge, amounting to more than one marijuana possession arrest every minute.
This article is roughly 500 words long. Assuming an average adult reading speed of around 250 words per minute, that means that in the time it takes you to finish this story, an average of two Americans will be arrested for marijuana possession.
Overall in 2016, roughly 1.5 million people were arrested for drug-related offenses, up slightly year-over-year. Advocates for a more public health-centered approach to drug use say numbers like these show the drug war never really went away.
“Criminalizing drug use has devastated families across the US, particularly in communities of color, and for no good reason,” said Maria McFarland Sánchez Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, in a statement. “Far from helping people who are struggling with addiction, the threat of arrest often keeps them from accessing health services and increases the risk of overdose or other harms.”
National polling shows support for recreational marijuana use hovering around 60 percent. Eight states plus the District of Columbia now allow recreational use of the drug. But the latest FBI numbers suggest that, at the national level at least, this hasn't yet led to significant changes to pot policing in other states.