Marijuana possession led to nearly 6 percent of all arrests in the United States in 2017, FBI data shows, underscoring the level of policing dedicated to containing behavior that’s legal in 10 states and the nation’s capital.
But the figure obscures the considerable variations in enforcement practices at the state and local levels. In many areas of the country in 2016, more than 20 percent of all arrests stemmed from pot possession, according to newly released county-level arrest figures from the National Archive of Criminal Justice Data. The figure exceeds 40 percent in a handful of counties, topping out at nearly 55 percent in one Georgia county.
The data tracks arrests, not individuals, so there’s no mechanism for winnowing out repeat offenders. Nor does it include arrests for the sale or production of marijuana. But the numbers still illustrate how marijuana enforcement continues to make up a big part of many police agencies’ caseloads.
The findings reflect, in part, a few simple realities: The federal government incentivizes aggressive drug enforcement via funding for drug task forcesand generous forfeiture rules that allow agencies to keep cash and other valuables they find in the course of a drug bust. And because marijuana is bulky and pungent relative to other drugs, it’s often easy for police to root out.
But given that recreational marijuana is legal throughout the West, and that two-thirds of the public supports legalization, critics view such aggressive enforcement tactics as wasteful, ineffective and even racially biased. Read more