Texas law enforcement make more annual marijuana arrests than do police in any other state, according to newly reported arrest data compiled by Jon Gettman, associate professor of criminal justice at Shenandoah University.
Of the nearly 531,000 marijuana arrests reported to the FBI in 2016, the most recent year for which data is available, an estimated 12 percent of arrests occurred in Texas. (Marijuana arrest data for the states of Florida, Illinois, and Washington, DC were not reported that year.) Six addition states – Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Virginia – also reported 20,000+ marijuana arrests in 2016. Here is a look at the top 5 states on this list.
Texas has long been the statewide leader in marijuana arrests and 2016 was no exception. Police made 64,949 cannabis-related arrests that year, 98 percent of which were for simple possession. Under state law, all of these offenders face up to 180 days in jail, a $2,000 fine, and a lifelong criminal record.
As in past years, New York City remains the marijuana arrest capitol of North America. Despite repeated pledges from NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio that he would discourage the NYPD from making low-level pot arrests, city cops nonetheless made over 18,000 marijuana arrests in 2016 – comprising nearly half of the 36,997 total cannabis arrests statewide.
Despite growing support among Garden State voters in favor of the outright legalization of cannabis, annual marijuana arrests in New Jersey have skyrocketed in recent years – up some 25 percent since 2014 to total 35,700 in 2016. This spike in marijuana law enforcement occurred under former Governor, and long-time anti-pot zealot, Chris Christie. By contrast, newly elected Gov. Phil Murphy campaigned on a promise to legalize adult marijuana use.
Police in the Keystone State made 23,844 arrests for marijuana-related crimes in 2016. Eighty-three percent of those were for simple possession. Nonetheless, there are some signs of progress. In recent years, Philadelphia politicians have moved forward with efforts to aggressively reduce the number of minor marijuana arrests in the city. Specifically, this past February, newly elected District Attorney Larry Krasner announced that his office will cease prosecuting marijuana possession offenses altogether. Other cities, including Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and State College, Pennsylvania have also adopted municipal decriminalization ordinances in recent years.
Like in New Jersey, marijuana arrests in the Show Me State have risen significantly in recent years – totaling 22,462 in 2016. Fortunately, many of those facing low level possession charges no longer face the threat of jail time, as per legislation enacted on January 1, 2017. Under the new law, marijuana offenses involving the possession of ten grams or less face a fine, but not incarceration. Those found guilty of possessing greater amounts, however, face up to one year in jail.