Legalization Drastically Reduced Arrests in California

California legalized cannabis in 2016 – and since then arrests for cannabis related crimes has seen a significant reduction in the state. Data shows marijuana related arrests having fallen by 56 percent from 2016 to 2017 – with felony arrests down by 74 percent. The number of people facing possible incarceration, criminal records and big fines due to cannabis related crimes fell by close to 8,000 people according to The Orange County Register.

While legalization does not entirely remove cannabis related crimes, it does substantially change the causes for arrest. Where before legalization simple possession could likely cost you a fine, jail time and a misdemeanor or felony on your record, possession is now legal up to a certain amount – with fines for going over those amounts.

“Overall, I think it bodes well for marijuana legalization in California,” said Jolene Forman, an attorney with the Drug Policy Alliance, which backed the marijuana legalization effort. “It shows… that law enforcement resources are not being wasted on marijuana arrests anymore and can be used on more serious offenses.”

The United States has the highest incarceration rate of any developed country in the world – and many those sitting in prison or jail are non-violent offenders and many of them convicted of drug charges. Unfortunately, as of 2010, more than half of those arrested for drug charges were arrested specifically on marijuana related charges – with marijuana arrests peaking in 2014 for the first time since 2009.

Since then, multiple states have legalized cannabis for medicinal or recreational purposes, and legalizing adult use is making its impact on the overall number of related arrests. Just a year later, in 2015, data showed that the overall number arrested for possession had dropped to the lowest since the early 90s – however, cannabis charges still made up 89 percent of all drug-related arrests in the nation.

The reason for decline in arrests is likely due to the flood of changing laws – by 2015, cannabis was legal for adults in 4 states, Colorado and Washington who legalized in 2012, and Alaska and Oregon who joined the age of legalization and regulation in 2014. Since then, five more states have decided to end prohibition – and in turn continue to reduce the number of people who are at risk for arrest for possession of cannabis.

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