CAREY WEDLER–According to the latest FBI data, drug arrests in the United States increased from 2015 to 2016. Though the federal agency used to provide breakdowns on the details of these arrests in its annual “Crime in the United States” report — including which drugs were in question and whether the arrests were made over possession or sale — in its latest report, the FBI is withholding specifics.
On Monday, Tom Angell, a contributor at Forbes, wrote about the increase in drug arrests across the country, noting that while in 2015 there were 1,488,707 drug arrests (“the highest number of arrests” out of all offenses, according to the FBI), in 2016 the agency reported 1,572,579 arrests for drugs, a figure that again accounted for the highest number of arrests.
Angell notes that “That’s an average of one drug arrest every 20 seconds” and that “The total number is up roughly 5.6% from the 1,488,707 arrests for drug crimes in the country in 2015.”
According to the 2015 data, 83.9 percent of drug arrests were for possession, and 38.6 percent of those possession arrests were over cannabis, the highest of any drug.
Aside from the troubling increase in arrests from 2015 to 2016, however, is the fact that this year, the FBI did not include a table breaking down the types of drug arrests as it did in 2015. As Angell reportedlater on Monday, “due to a change in how the annual law enforcement numbers are publicized, it is now harder to determine how many people were busted for marijuana or other drugs specifically.”
Though the numbers are missing from the FBI’s public 2016 report, Angell was able to obtain data from the agency by contacting them directly.
Stephen G. Fischer Jr., the chief of multimedia productions for the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division, shared that, as Angell summarized:
“Marijuana possession busts comprised 37.36% of all reported drug arrests in the U.S. in 2016, and cannabis sales and manufacturing arrests accounted for another 4.18% of the total.”
These percentages are slightly down compared to 38.6 percent for possession of cannabis in 2015 and 4.6 for sale of that plant that year. Nevertheless, they remain high in a country that has largely rejected the war on weed, if not the war on drugs altogether, and where an increasing number of states are legalizing the plant.
Further, the number of cannabis-related arrests is still higher than 2015 because the total number of drug arrests increased in 2016. Angell explained:
“Added together, marijuana arrests made up 41.54% of the 1,572,579 drug busts in the country last year.
“That means, based on an extrapolation, that police arrested people for cannabis 653,249 times in the U.S. in 2016.
“That averages out to about one marijuana arrest every 48 seconds.
“According to the same calculation, there were 643,121 U.S. cannabis arrests in 2015.”
Still, he notes the caveat that not all 75 of law enforcement reported the specifics of arrests, so “the calculations could be thrown off by agencies that made particularly large or small numbers of arrests for marijuana as compared to other drugs, depending on which police forces are providing the breakdowns.” The available data accounts for about 75% of arrests.
Though the FBI is not entirely hiding the information, as they were willing to disclose it to Angell, they are certainly making it more difficult for the public to access the realities of the government’s ongoing war on drugs, chalking it up to “streamlining” data.
“The UCR Program streamlined the 2016 edition by reducing the number of tables from 81 to 29,” Fischer told Angell.
Regardless of the hard numbers, cops around the country are undeniably facing a growing backlash against their enforcement of increasingly archaic drug laws.