The report, which was published by the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program, found that arrests for marijuana possession clocked in at 574,641 arrests in 2015--the lowest number of arrests in the category in 10 years. The Washington Post calculates the data as a 7 percent decline year-over-year, and an approximate 25 percent decline from the historic peak of 800,000 marijuana possession arrests in 2007.
The drop in the number of arrests should not be surprising. A cultural shift has changed the prohibitionist attitude towards pot as marijuana has come above ground in legal markets. Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington have legalized recreational marijuana and a total of 25 states and Washington, D.C. have some form of legal marijuana in place. Five states, including California, will vote on recreational marijuana and four states will vote on medical marijuana in November.
But, according to the Washington Post's calculations, one marijuana possession arrest still happens every minute. Data from multiple reports from the Drug Policy Alliance and the ACLU shows that although marijuana use is approximately equal among different races, enforcement of marijuana laws disproportionately effects minorities. The ACLU found that people of color are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites.
Still, progress has been made. In 2014, police arrested 620,000 people for marijuana. In 2010, arrests for marijuana possession and sale combined made up 52 percent of all drug arrests, compared to the 43 percent in 2015. The majority of all arrests across the U.S. are for drugs; theft and driving under the influence come in second and third, respectively.
Although the number of people being arrested for marijuana is dropping, the decades of prohibition has taken its toll on people hit with an arrest. A report by the ACLU in 2013 found that there were over 8 million marijuana-related arrests in the U.S. between 2001 and 2010, or one arrest every 37 seconds. Once a person has a criminal record, it becomes harder to get a job, study show. Societal cost is real, but the financial burden prohibition has placed on this country is also heavy--that same report found that enforcing marijuana possession costs U.S. taxpayers $3.6 billion a year.
As aboveground marijuana markets are legalized in more states and police shift their focus from low level marijuana arrests to harder drugs like heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and the illegal use of prescription narcotics, politicians are speaking out against the old prohibitionist attitude towards cannabis.
Back in 2011, the Office of National Drug Control Policy director Gil Kerlikowske, reflected on his career in law enforcement and said policing for drugs is not the answer. "I know we cannot arrest our way out of the drug problem," said Kerlikowske.
While marijuana is becoming legal in more states, the war on drugs is still being waged. Harsh mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenders has created a prison population that has swelled to epic proportions and the War on Drugs has not produced positive results. People still use and sell drugs, except we're also creating a generation of felons who will not be able to enter the workforce easily.
In April, at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem, 1,000 world leaders and activists signed a letter to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, calling for the U.N. to reform global drug control policies. Signatories included Warren Buffett, Bernie Sanders, and singer John Legend.
"The drug control regime that emerged during the last century has proven disastrous for global health, security and human rights," the letter reads. "Focused overwhelmingly on criminalization and punishment, it created a vast illicit market that has enriched criminal organizations, corrupted governments, triggered explosive violence, distorted economic markets and undermined basic moral values."
Drug policy reform advocates argue that putting people in prison for non-violent drug offenses does not help society; it hurts society. Instead, advocates want a new culture of drug control that focuses on health and safety instead of criminalization.
The letter says, as a rule of thumb: "Drug control efforts must never do more harm than good, or cause more harm than drug misuse itself."