More people were arrested last year for marijuana possession than for all crimes the FBI classifies as violent, according to crime data the FBI released on Monday, the Washington Post reports. Marijuana possession arrests edged up slightly in a year when voters in four states approved recreational marijuana initiatives and voters in three others approved medical marijuana measures. The figures are estimates, because not all law enforcement agencies provide detailed arrest information to the FBI. They show that the annual number of marijuana arrests is down from their peak in the mid-2000s and stands at levels last seen in the mid 1990s.
Marijuana possession remains one of the single largest arrest categories, accounting for over 5 percent of all arrests last year. More than one in 20 arrests involved a marijuana possession charge, amounting to more than one marijuana possession arrest every minute. About 1.5 million people were arrested for drug-related offenses last year, up slightly year-over-year. Advocates for a more public health-centered approach to drug use say numbers like these show the drug war never really went away. “Criminalizing drug use has devastated families across the U.S., particularly in communities of color, and for no good reason,” said Maria McFarland Sánchez Moreno of the Drug Policy Alliance. The question of what to do about drug use has become urgent as deaths from opioid overdoses have skyrocketed. The Drug Policy Alliance says that Portugal, where the personal possession and use of drugs was decriminalized in 2001, has one of the lowest drug overdose rates in western Europe.