News, Politics

Are Arrests for Cannabis Starting to Decline in the Age of Legalization?

July 20, 2022 08:00 am ET
Are Arrests for Cannabis Starting to Decline in the Age of Legalization?

The U.S. federal government claims that there has been an 11% decline in cannabis arrests over the last decade. This is good news, but like anything regarding cannabis and the federal government, there’s more to it. Arrests may be beginning to decline, but with cannabis legal in so many places across the nation, it should be doing much more.

Cannabis legalization has taken the nation by storm. Recreational cannabis is legal in 19 states, and medical cannabis is legal in 37. Mississippi—one of the most conservative states in the nation—was the most recent state to enact a medical cannabis law, and North Carolina is on the verge of solidifying its own legislation. State politicians are slowly warming up to cannabis, but the future still feels grim when it comes to federal reform.

Cannabis prohibition officially kicked off in the United States in 1937 with the signing of the Marihuana Tax Act. That was 84 years ago! To give you an idea, cannabis prohibition in the United States predates World War II. Since the beginning of cannabis prohibition, police and other authority figures have arrested countless people for possession of a plant.

The Confusing Illegality Surrounding Cannabis

The federal government classifies cannabis as a Schedule I drug with no medicinal use and a high potential for addiction. However, the law is very confusing. While THC is technically federally illegal, all hemp-based products that contain 0.3% THC or less are legal in all 50 states under the 2018 Farm Bill.

This means if you extract CBD, CBG, CBN, or other cannabinoids from federally compliant industrial hemp, they are legal. However, if you extract the same cannabinoids from medical/recreational cannabis that has a THC content higher than the federal limit of 0.3%, they’re illegal. How do you tell the difference? This truly is confusing. It shows with sales of “loophole” cannabis products like delta-8 THC.

Delta-8 THC is thought to be very similar to delta-9 THC, the natural cannabinoid that causes a high. While delta-8 does occur naturally, it only does so in small amounts, meaning scientists have to extract it from hemp using a chemical conversion process. Although many people consume delta-8 THC with no problems, the main fear surrounding it lies in the fact that there is very little regulation of delta-8 products.

Some folks just like delta-8 THC for its unique effects, but the majority are turning to it because they can’t legally access delta-9 THC in their states. This is what continued prohibition of cannabis is causing. They talk about arrests declining; let’s see cannabis arrests stop altogether, so people don’t have to turn to alternatives like chemically produced delta-8.

Arrests Rates Are Dropping, but Is This True Progress?

Statistics say that the arrest rate for cannabis is declining year by year. This is good news. But, at the same time, it sparks questions. Arrests for cannabis violations are said to be declining year over year. Sadly, this statement becomes a little questionable when we learn that there are still more arrests for cannabis in the United States than there are for all violent crimes combined. Is cannabis worse than violent crime? Or are cannabis law violators simply easier to sniff out and bust?

According to NORML, “Police across America make a marijuana-related arrest every 58 seconds.” In 2019, the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report shows that police arrested 545,602 people over cannabis violations. In comparison, only 495,871 people were arrested for violent crimes. Of the 500,000+ arrests for cannabis violations, 92% were for possession of cannabis only.

They say that cannabis arrests are beginning to decline, yet people are still being arrested every 58 seconds for cannabis. That’s an estimated 1,489 people arrested for cannabis every 24 hours, or over 500k people a year. You see cannabis arrests on the news all the time. Sometimes people are conducting large-scale operations, but other times it’s somebody growing a couple of plants inside their house or backyard.

The Cannabis Tides Are Shifting

Across the U.S., law enforcement has begun to shift its view toward cannabis. You will especially notice this in states that have legal access to cannabis. As long as you’re playing by the rules, police genuinely have no concern for cannabis. Don’t ride around in your car smoking out like Cheech and Chong. Don’t walk down the street puffing joints unless you’re in New York, where it’s legal to do so. Remember, many places that have legal access to cannabis have very limited access to legal places for cannabis consumption outside of one’s personal residence. Most hotels, Airbnbs, etc. still frown upon cannabis consumption on-premises.

Silly things like this are what are causing people to still get busted for possession in 2022! It’s estimated the decline in cannabis-related arrests that we are seeing is in part caused by Texas. Officers in Texas have begun to take a different approach to cannabis and cannabis violations. This resulted in Texas seeing 50,000 fewer cannabis-related arrests in 2019 than the previous year.

Just imagine if the federal government were to reverse its outdated policy supporting the continued prohibition of cannabis. Think of all the resources that could be utilized elsewhere. Perhaps the arrest rate for violent crimes would increase substantially—as has already been shown—helping to make America a safer place. Instead, federal lawmakers apparently think that busting people for weed is still more important. If you support bringing an end to federal cannabis prohibition, let your elected representatives know.

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