Legalize It: Marijuana Arrests Skyrocket As Nation Moves Towards Legalization

Four states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana while 23 other states have eased restrictions, but federal agents are still arresting people caught with the drug in record numbers.

During 2014, marijuana arrests skyrocketed with someone being charged with possession every 45 seconds, the FBI announced last week. That’s 1,700 people a day.

For the first time since 2009, marijuana arrests have increased despite nationwide pressure to decriminalize the drug. The increasing number of arrests is jarring, Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority, told the Washington Times.

“At a time when a growing majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana, it’s amazing that police are still putting more people in handcuffs for this. There’s just no good reason that so much police time and taxpayer money is spent punishing people for marijuana when so many murders, rapes and robberies go unsolved.”

The FBI arrested 620,000 people for simple marijuana possession during 2014, according to their announcement. That’s 40 percent of the agency’s drug related arrests nationwide last year.

Marijuana Arrests Skyrocket
SAN FRANCISCO - JULY 13: Containers of medicinal marijuana are seen on display at the Alternative Herbal Health Services cannabis dispensary July 13, 2006 in San Francisco. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The increase of 11,000 arrests or 1.8 percent came despite the drugs legalization in Colorado and Washington. Pot was also legalized in the District of Columbia, Oregon, and Alaska, but those laws didn’t take effect until this year.

Another 81,000 or 5.2 percent of people were arrested for selling or manufacturing marijuana during 2014.

Despite a nationwide movement to legalize cannabis for both recreational and medicinal use, the federal government still considers marijuana a Schedule 1 drug without any redeeming value.

Some states, like Texas, have legalized cannabis oil and other extracts for patients who qualify for compassionate waivers, but the lack of federal approval hampers researchers conducting large-scale testing.

Cannabidiol, an active ingredient in marijuana that doesn’t get people high, has been proven to aid patients suffering from epilepsy, schizophrenia, and social anxiety, but without federal approval, large-scale manufacturing and distribution is difficult.

Mason Tvert of the Marijuana Policy Project, a pro-legalization group, told the Washington Post arrests for marijuana possession have been increasing throughout the drug war even as cannabis becomes more socially acceptable.

“These numbers refute the myth that nobody actually gets arrested for using marijuana. It’s hard to imagine why more people were arrested for marijuana possession when fewer people than ever believe it should be a crime.”

With the average marijuana arrest estimated to cost $750, the American Civil Liberties Union estimates the country just spent half a billion dollars to arrest 620,000 for simple marijuana possession, the Washington Post reports.

Several states are considering legalizing marijuana in coming years including Arizona, California, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, and Ohio.

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Marijuana Arrests Skyrocket
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 4, 2014: Alan Amsterdam (L), and Cesar Maxit, (C) talk to a voter about the ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in front of a polling location in the Adams Morgan neighborhood on November 4, 2014 in NW Washington D.C. (Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)

Their legalization efforts are as varied as the states themselves with some expecting citizen-sponsored ballot measures while others are considering bills sponsored and debated by state legislatures.

Nationwide legalization efforts have sent the cannabis industry soaring to record profit levels, and the industry is now valued at some $3 billion.

Ohio, which could possibly become the first state to legalize marijuana without first approving it for medical use, is considering state sponsored monopolies that would control all the state’s marijuana plants.

Much of the West Coast is poised to consider legalization, and their approval could have a serious impact on arrest data nationwide.

Meanwhile, other states like Montana are moving away from marijuana legalization. The Big Sky Country state approved medical marijuana in 2004, but its citizens seem to have regretted their choice, and they are now moving to restrict the number of dispensaries and their clients.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Justin Sullivan/Allison Shelley/Getty Images