According to the recently released Uniform Crime Report from the FBI, more people were arrested for cannabis in 2019 than for all violent crimes put together. A Russian news agency is reporting that Brittney Griner has been arrested in Russia for possession of cannabis oil.
More People Were Arrested For Cannabis Last Year Than For All Violent Crimes Put Together, According To FBI Data
Last year police in the U.S. arrested 545,602 people for cannabis related crimes.
Cannabis has been gaining lots of public support over the last decade. The federally illegal plant has been made legal for some type of medical or recreational use in the majority of U.S. states. Currently 33 states allow for at least some type of medical cannabis use and 11 allow for adult recreational use. The stigma around the drug has also lessened, with two thirds of Americans now supporting national legalization. Cannabis was even deemed essential in many states during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Still, despite the public support and medical use of the drug, cannabis remains federally illegal and arresting people who use still seems to be a big priority for crime enforcement. According to the recently released Uniform Crime Report from the FBI, more people were arrested for cannabis in 2019 than for all violent crimes put together.
The data from the FBI’s report revealed that police arrested 545,602 people for cannabis related crimes in 2019. That arrest rate is 9% higher than the 495,871 people arrested for violent crimes the same year. And those being arrested for cannabis aren’t just those making money from selling, growing or manufacturing the drug – they are mostly just people who use cannabis. The vast majority of these arrests (92%) were for simple possession of the drug. 500,395 of those arrested for cannabis were simply found in possession of cannabis. Even if we take out all the arrests for being involved in unregulated cannabis commerce and just focus on arrests for cannabis possession, the numbers still outpace arrests for violent crimes.
Cameron County sheriff’s officer puts handcuffs on a suspected illegal immigrant caught with . [+] marijuana during a traffic stop in south Texas. (Photo by Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc/Corbis via Getty Images)
Corbis via Getty Images
This highlights the inequitable situation between states, where cannabis consumers in one state may face serious jail time for an act that has no penalties at all in the state next door. It also makes some question whether law enforcement resources could be better allocated to fighting more serious crimes – instead of focusing on busting people for using a common recreational and medicinal plant.
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“Police across America make a marijuana-related arrest every 58 seconds,” explains Erik Altieri, the Executive Director for cannabis advocacy group NORML. “At a time when the overwhelming majority of Americans want cannabis to be legal and regulated, it is an outrage that many police departments across the country continue to waste tax dollars and limited law enforcement resources on arresting otherwise law-abiding citizens for simple marijuana possession.”
Still, arrests for cannabis actually went down by 18% overall last year, when compared to 2018. This could be partly due to legal changes in Texas, which resulted in far fewer cannabis arrests there than in 2018. House Bill 1325 legalized hemp production in the state last year, which shifted the definition of cannabis to exclude hemp. Hemp and cannabis are actually the same type of plant, but it is legally considered to be hemp when it contains less than 0.3% THC (the main psychoactive compound in the plant). When it exceeds that THC limit, it is considered to be cannabis. This change apparently made it more difficult for police to make arrests without testing the seized plant material to determine if it was hemp or cannabis. This drastically cut down on Texas’ number of arrests for cannabis in 2019, with over 50,000 fewer arrests.
Despite legalization efforts, arrests for cannabis reached an all time peak a decade ago, with close to 800,000 cannabis possession arrests. And while those numbers have decreased over the last decade, they had been increasing again over the last three years.
The data from the FBI also gave clues to where this year’s cannabis arrests were more likely to take place. They found that cannabis arrests were least likely to happen in western states – which have mostly all legalized the drug. But those in the northeast may want to take particular caution around following cannabis laws. 53% of all drug arrests took place in the northeast part of the country last year.
NEW YORK, NY – JULY 09: A police officer on the steps of New York City Hall monitors a protest in . [+] support of the proposed Fairness and Equity Act, which would attempt to reform racially biased arrests in regards to marijuana possession in New York state on July 9, 2014 in New York City. New York State recently passed a new law allowing medical marijuana usage. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
In addition to those dwelling in the northeast, those in the black community may also be at particular risk of being arrested for cannabis crimes. A recent report from the ACLU looked at data from 2018, and found that black people were 3.6 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than white people. This is despite the fact that both groups use cannabis at similar rates. Even in western states with recreational cannabis laws, black people were 1.5-1.8% more likely to be arrested for having cannabis. In states with the worst racial disparity in arrests, like Montana and Kentucky, black people were 9.4-9.6% more likely to be arrested. In some counties, disparities were so high, black people were 50 times more likely to be arrested.
Mercury ‘closely monitoring’ after report Russians arrested Brittney Griner on cannabis oil possession charge
In the offseason, Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner has played for Russia’s UMMC Ekaterinburg since 2015. Many of the top players in the WNBA compete overseas because the money is so lucrative. (Photo by /BSR Agency/Getty Images)
PHOENIX – A WNBA player the Russian Federal Customs Service said it arrested on suspicion of smuggling liquid cannabis is Brittney Griner, the Phoenix Mercury confirmed Saturday.
The star center was detained at an airport in February after Russian authorities found what they claimed were vape cartridges containing hashish in her luggage.
“We are aware of and are closely monitoring the situation with Brittney Griner in Russia,” the Phoenix Mercury said in a statement. “We remain in constant contact with her family, her representation, the WNBA and NBA. We love and support Brittney and at this time our main concern is her safety, physical and mental health, and her safe return home.”
According to Intefax, a Russian independent news agency, the Russian Federal Customs Service reported that “a U.S. citizen was passing through the green channel at Sheremetyevo Airport upon arriving from New York (when) a working dog from the Sheremetyevo Customs canine department detected the possible presence of narcotic substances in the accompanying luggage.”
As officials screened it, the inspection “confirmed the presence of vapes with specifically-smelling liquid, and an expert determined that the liquid was cannabis oil (hash oil), which is a narcotic substance,” the Customs Service reported.
Griner has won four titles with UMMC Ekaterinburg, a Russian Euroleague basketball team. The team is stacked with WNBA talent including Mercury teammate Diana Taurasi, Breanna Stewart, Courtney Vandersloot and 2021 Most Valuable Player Jonquel Jones.
Griner can face five to 10 years in prison for smuggling narcotic substances on a substantial scale, according to Russia Interfax.
Given the tensions between Ukraine and Russia, the WNBA said in a recent statement that they are taking measures to keep players safe.
“The league has also been in contact with WNBA players who are in Russia, either directly or through their agents,” the statement read. “We will continue to closely monitor the situation.”
On Saturday, the league issued another statement, saying, “Brittney Griner has the WNBA’s full support and our main priority is her swift and safe return to the United States.”
Many of the WNBA’s top players compete overseas in the offseason because salaries are so lucrative. ESPN reported in 2016 that Griner was making close to $1 million that season while Taurasi brought in around $1.5 million.
The team also charters flights to away games. Earlier this week, Sports Illustrated reported that the WNBA issued a league-record $500,000 fine to the New York Liberty for traveling by charter flights during the second half of last season.