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If you think legalization means less weed arrests, guess again


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The cannabis legalization movement has freed more than the plant. Despite this, one-third of all 2022 drug-related arrests were for weed according to FBI cannabis arrest data. Expungements of cannabis crimes and the release of prisoners have followed legalization in some states, but many remain incarcerated while the industry grows.

In fact, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) updated its Crime Data Explorer with the latest arrest information this week. This update revealed that in 2022, police made 227,108 cannabis-related arrests– 92 percent for possession only. Non-profit advocacy group NORML sent a press release to GreenState about the recently released data.

“It remains clear that marijuana seizures and prosecutions remain a primary driver of drug war enforcement in the United States,” NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said in the release. “Hundreds of thousands of Americans continue to be arrested annually for these violations even though a majority of voters no longer believe that the responsible use of marijuana by adults should be a crime.”

Cannabis arrests bumped up, but data could be unreliable

The yearly drug arrest number has grown since the last update. In 2021, the FBI reported 219,489 cannabis arrests. There are some limitations to this data collection. Many law enforcement agencies fail to report their data to the FBI.

Last year, only 63 percent of agencies reported arrests. This year, the number is up, with 83 percent reporting. This responding percentage covers about 75 percent of the U.S. population. Therefore, the arrest growth seen from 2021 to 2022 could be due to more responding agencies.

The release shared that some data in FBI-provided zip drives doesn’t match data displayed on websites.

“At a time when voters and their elected officials nationwide are re-evaluating state and federal marijuana policies, it is inconceivable that government agencies are unable to produce more explicit data on the estimated costs and scope of marijuana prohibition in America,” Armentano commented.

These drug arrest numbers have shrunk since their peak in 2007. That year, police arrested over 870,000 people for drug-related crime–48 percent were marijuana violations. In the time that has passed, all but eight states have passed some measure of cannabis legalization. Still FBI cannabis arrest data implies the law hasn’t followed that trend.

The tides are clearly shifting, but with cannabis making up a third of drug arrests in the nation,

it’s clear not all law enforcement is down with the plant.

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