These are the States with the Highest Marijuana-Related Arrests in the US

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Law enforcement officers from Texas incarcerate more people because of cannabis than any other police force in any other state, according to the data compiled by Jon Gettman, an associate professor of criminal justice at Shenandoah University.

In 2016, the FBI disclosed that there were roughly 531,000 marijuana-related arrests in the United States and about 12 percent of the arrests were made in Texas.

To be fair, I have to mention that arrest data for cannabis-related offenses were not available for the states of Illinois, Florida, and Washington DC.

Aside from Texas, six more states also reported more than 20,000 cannabis-related arrests in 2016.

Here are the states that prosecute most of their people for cannabis-related offenses:


  • Possession arrests in 2016: 63,599
  • Distribution arrests in 2016: 1,350
  • Total marijuana arrests in 2016: 64,949
  • Population: 27 million
  • Arrest rate (per 100,000 people): 240.9

The Loner Star State has always been a leader in the country for cannabis arrests. 2016 was no exception with 64,949 marijuana-related incarcerations. 98 percent of the arrest were for simple possession charges.

Texas’s laws state that any offender will face up to 180 days in prison, pay a $2,000 fine, and will have a permanent criminal record.

Members of the House of Representative in Texas failed to hold a vote on the legislation proposed by lawmakers in 2017. The legislation aimed to decriminalize minor cannabis possession offenses.

District attorneys in Houston and San Antonio acted in response to the House’s inaction.

These cities enacted the local “cite-and-release” program. These municipal level policies will shield the defendants from getting criminal records by successfully completing a pretrial diversion program.

New York

  • Possession arrests in 2016: 36,977
  • Distribution arrests in 2016: Not available for the whole state
  • Total marijuana arrests in 2016: 36,977
  • Population: 19.7 million
  • Arrest rate (per 100,000 people): 187.7

The Big Apple still remains the cannabis arrest capital of the U.S. Despite Bill DeBlasio, the Mayor of New York City repeatedly promising that he will discourage the New York Police Department from making petty arrests in relation to cannabis, the police force in the city nonetheless made over 18,000 cannabis-related arrests in 2016.

Those arrests compromised nearly half of the 36,997 total marijuana arrests in the state.

Legislators in 1977 decriminalized the possession of marijuana in small quantities. That act should have stopped thousands of arrests and remove New York from the list states that have continuously high marijuana-related incarcerations.

Ironically, a loophole in the laws of New York continue to permit law enforcement officers, at their discretion, to raise the charges up to criminal misdemeanor in instances where they can report that cannabis was “open to public view”.

Several legislative attempts were considered to close this loophole for years but there has been no success.

Many argue that because of this technicality, some police officers can discriminately choose who, or in this case, what race to charge and be sent to prison.

New Jersey

  • Possession arrests in 2016: 32,263
  • Distribution arrests in 2016: 3,437
  • Total marijuana arrests in 2016: 35,700
  • Population: 8.9 million
  • Arrest rate (per 100,000 people): 400.4

Garden State voters who support and are in favor of the outright legalization of marijuana are rapidly growing. Despite this fact, annual arrests for cannabis-related charges have gone up in recent years. It skyrocketed to 25 percent since 2014 to a total of 35,700 in 2016.

This spike in cannabis law enforcement activities occurred under Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey and a well-known anti-cannabis advocate.

On the other hand, Phil Murphy, the newly elected governor of the state promised that he will legalize the adult use of marijuana during his campaign.

Murphy stood firm on his pledge since taking office. In March he moved forward with changes in the regulation for medical marijuana patients. That regulation made it easier for the patients to use and access medical cannabis.

“I greatly respect those in this chamber who have proposed decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, and I thank them for recognizing the importance of doing what’s right and just for those who carry criminal records for past possession arrests. But decriminalization alone will not put the corner dealer out of business, it will not help us protect our kids, and it will not end the racial disparities we see,” Murphy said. “If these are our goals – as they must be – then the only sensible option is the careful legalization, regulation, and taxation of marijuana sales to adults.”


  • Possession arrests in 2016: 19,710
  • Distribution arrests in 2016: 4,134
  • Total marijuana arrests in 2016: 23,844
  • Population: 12.8 million
  • Arrest rate (per 100,000 people): 186.5

In the Keystone State, law enforcement officers also surpassed more than 20,000 arrests. Like in previous states mentioned, most arrests were from simple possessions.

But there seem to be some signs of progress in recent years.

Politicians in the state have proposed and acted on some plans to aggressively decrease the number of minor cannabis arrests in the city. Specifically, just this February, Larry Krasner, the newly elected District Attorney declared that his office would not prosecute cannabis possessions anymore.

Tom Wolf, Pennsylvania’s Democrat Governor also supports the statewide decriminalization.



  • Possession arrests in 2016: 21,277
  • Distribution arrests in 2016: 1,185
  • Total marijuana arrests in 2016: 22,462
  • Population: 6.1 million
  • Arrest rate (per 100,000 people): 370.7

Cannabis-related arrests in the Show Me State have also been rising significantly in recent years.

The good thing is,  many of those who are caught with small marijuana possessions charges, have not been facing the threat of being jailed in Missouri, since January 2017.

Under this new law, the offenses with regard to cannabis possession of ten grams or less have to pay a fine but they won’t face incarceration. However, those caught with greater amounts are still facing jail time.

Like in New Jersey, marijuana arrests in the Show Me State have risen significantly in recent years – totaling 22,462 in 2016. Fortunately, many of those facing low-level possession charge no longer face the threat of jail time, as per legislation enacted on January 1, 2017. 


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