Marijuana arrests fell by more than 1/3 last year amid COVID-19 and progress on legalization

FBI crime statistics suggest that as people stayed home during the pandemic, few faced busts for pot possession. - UnSplash / Sharon McCutcheaon
UnSplash / Sharon McCutcheaon
FBI crime statistics suggest that as people stayed home during the pandemic, few faced busts for pot possession.

Pot arrests fell drastically last year as the COVID-19 pandemic kept people indoors and as more states legalized or decriminalized cannabis, according to a new analysis of FBI data.

After parsing through FBI crime stats, the online publication Marijuana Moment reported that cannabis sales and possession arrests accounted for slightly more than 30% of the nearly 1.2 million drug-related arrests in 2020.

That's a decline of roughly 36% from 2019, according to the data.

Here's how that works out. FBI stats show that law enforcement officials tallied a total of 350,150 pot busts last year, or one every 90 seconds. An alarming figure, sure, but still far lower than in 2019, when the FBI reported 545,601 marijuana arrests, or one every 58 seconds.

While the FBI didn't provide analysis of why cannabis arrests had fallen so sharply, Marijuana Moment points out that the lower arrest figures coincide with the onset of the pandemic. The health crisis kept people out of public spaces where they were likely to risk possession arrests.

Additionally, states including Hawaii, New Mexico, North Dakota and Virginia all decriminalized pot possession during that time frame, according to the report, and other states expanded access to legal weed.

But Marijuana Moment's report also included a sobering reality check. Even after the deep falloff in pot arrests, the FBI data indicates that law enforcement agencies still arrested more people for weed in 2020 than they did for murder, rape, robbery, burglary, fraud and embezzlement combined.

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