How many people are arrested for possessing marijuana?

Drug Policy Question of the Week – 9-29-10

As answered by Mary Jane Borden, Editor of Drug War Facts for the Drug Truth Network on 9-29-10.

Question of the Week: How many people arrested just for possessing marijuana?

The Federal Bureau of Investigation compiles arrest data through a system called the “Uniform Crime Reporting Program.” This system collects data for 29 different offenses as submitted to it by law enforcement agencies. The annual report generated from these data called “Crime in the United States – 2009” was released on September 15th.

In 2009, there were an estimated 13.7 million arrests in the United States. This total was down by -2.3% over the same total for 2008. Over the 14-year span from 1996 to 2009, all arrests totaled more or less the same number.

In 2009, there were an estimated 1.7 million arrests for drug abuse violations, representing the total arrests for all illegal drugs. This total, too, was down by -2.3% over the prior year and was more or less the same sum as fourteen years ago.

In 2009, there were an estimated 858 thousand arrests for marijuana, including simple possession, trafficking, and sales. This total was up by +1.2% over the prior year. However, marijuana’s percentage of total drug arrests has grown from about a 40% to over 50% during the fifteen year 1995-2009 period.

In 2009, 88% of marijuana arrests or 759 thousand were for simple possession, representing a jump from about a third to about a half of all drug abuse violation arrests over the last fourteen years. The fourteen-year average annual growth rate for marijuana arrests of +3.1% contrasts starkly to the negligible growth rates for total drug arrests and for all arrests.

These facts and others like them can be found in the Marijuana chapter of Drug War Facts at

Questions concerning these or other facts concerning drug policy can be e-mailed to