Marijuana Possession Enforcement Has Plummeted Over The Past Seven Years

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Marijuana use has risen sharply over the last decade, and recreational marijuana is now legal in two states. Considering weed is still illegal at the federal level, you might think these developments would result in more pot busts around the country. You’d be wrong: A new study out Tuesday shows that the number of marijuana possession arrests has actually fallen by 15 percent since 2007. Taking into account the 47 percent increase in marijuana use over that same period of time, this amounts to a net 42 percent decrease in marijuana possession enforcement over the last seven years.

The analysis comes courtesy of Stanford psychiatry professor Keith Humphreys, who analyzed data from the FBI and the National Survey on Drug Use. He found that the frequency with which Americans claim to smoke weed has risen 47 percent since 2007, while the number of marijuana possession arrests during that same period has dropped from almost 800,000 to a little over 658,000 in 2012. If, when comparing this data, one adjusts the number of arrests to compensate for the increase in use, the net result is a 42 percent decrease in arrests for marijuana possession.

That’s a huge number, but in a sense, it’s not too surprising, considering that a) public approval of weed has risen sharply in the last couple of years, b) the Justice Department is taking a much more hands-off approach to enforcing federal marijuana laws than it had in years past, and c) even the president is kind of okay with weed now, too.

To be sure, 658,000 is still a huge number of arrests. But the fact that even law enforcement officials are changing their approach to marijuana use suggests that weed truly is on its way to a new level of mainstream acceptance.