Marijuana Enforcement: By The Numbers

Over the past decade, a growing number of states have enacted marijuana legalization laws or have moved toward discretionary or non-enforcement policies for marijuana offenses, resulting in an overall decrease in arrests related to the substance. But how do the numbers differ from area to area or from race to race? Earlier this year, the American Civil Liberties Union (the “ACLU”) detailed a research report entitled A Tale of Two Countries: Racially Targeted Arrests in the Era of Marijuana Reform to examine racial disparities at a national, state, and county level regarding marijuana enforcement. Below, we take a closer look at the report and provide a detailed overview to further explore marijuana culture in the United States. 

What is the ACLU?

The ACLU is a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization paid for by member dues, contributions, and grants from private foundations. Founded in the 1920s, the ACLU receives no government funding and is now composed of over four million members, activists, and supporters across the country. The ACLU prides itself on taking up some of the most challenging civil liberties issues and cases, ensuring the promises embodied in the Bill of Rights, and standing up to defend all people from unfavorable government initiatives and overreach. The organization has appeared before the Supreme Court more than any other organization, except for the Department of Justice, which often appears as the defending party. The ACLU puts efforts toward changing policies, “as well as hearts and minds.” 

The ACLU research report A Tale of Two Countries: Racially Targeted Arrests in the Era of Marijuana Reform examines marijuana enforcement and reform to analyze racial disparities marijuana enforcement priorities in America. Additionally, the ACLU offers detailed recommendations for governments and law enforcement agencies. 

A Tale of Two Countries Statistical Summary

A Tale of Two Countries begins by outlining some of the most important findings, such as general trends in marijuana enforcement in the United States. The report details that, while states have continued to decriminalize marijuana and even legalize it for recreational use, arrests overall have decreased by 18% since 2010, yet that trend slowed significantly in the middle of the decade. There were actually more arrests in 2018 than in 2015, despite eight states having legalized marijuana in that time period. Additionally, in 2018, marijuana arrests accounted for 43% of all drug-related arrests, 87% of which were for possession charges only

One of the most notable findings of the study shows that black people are 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people, though the statistics indicate extremely comparable usage between races. The data further indicates that black people are more likely to be arrested than white people for marijuana-related offenses in every single state, and up to ten times more likely in some states. While the arrest numbers have dropped overall as states begin to legalize marijuana, the racial disparities between black and white people have remained approximately the same, if not increased. In fact, black people are more likely to be arrested than white people for marijuana possession in 95% of the counties with more than 30,000 people in which at least one percent are black. 

Other Marijuana Enforcement Statistics

Marijuana continues to be under much scrutiny due to its status as an “illegal substance” at the federal level. Marijuana remains a Schedule I substance in the United States, meaning it is scheduled alongside substances such as heroin and LSD. Marijuana is the most commonly used “illegal drug” in the United States, with 22.2 million users each month. Between 2001 and 2010, there were over 8 million marijuana-related arrests, which equates to approximately one arrest every 37 seconds. Currently, enforcing marijuana laws costs the U.S. around $3.6 billion per year, funds that could certainly be reallocated after further decriminalization and legalization. As it stands, 11 states and Washington D.C. have legalized recreational marijuana for people over 21 years of age, and 47 of the 50 states (only excluding Idaho, Nebraska, and South Dakota), have legalized some form of medical marijuana

As medical marijuana lawyers, the attorneys at Ritter Spencer Cheng PLLC stay up-to-date on legal reform in the marijuana community. Chelsie Spencer, a cannabis attorney, specializes in marijuana, hemp, and CBD law and has worked with a wide range of cannabis businesses regarding transactional and litigation issues, trademark law, copyright law, and other facets of the cannabis and hemp industries. She frequently writes and speaks on topical issues facing the cannabis culture as the country continues to push for legalization and decriminalization. Contact Ritter Spencer Cheng or give us a call at 214.295.5070 for more information.