Marijuana-related arrests by year

Marijuana-related arrests by year

Nationwide, the number of marijuana-related arrests fell dramatically in 2020 along with arrest rates for most other crimes. Understanding exactly what’s driving it is difficult to suss out, but advocates chalk up the changes to a mixture of overall lower crime rates during the pandemic and the continuous march of legalization across the country.

According to crime statistic data released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, marijuana-related arrests nationally fell by nearly 40% from 2019 to 2020 as arrests for possession and distribution fell from 413,000 to 249,887.In Alaska, the numbers are far lower, but the trend was nearly the same: total marijuana-related arrests fell from 217 in 2019 to just 138 in 2020, a 36% drop.

Alaska’s arrest rate for marijuana-related crimes peaked in 2010, when the state reported a total of 1,700 such arrests. This rate has consistently fallen since legalization, and the last time cases were this low was in 1990.

Alaska Marijuana Industry Association Executive Director Lacey Wilcox said she’s not surprised to see the rates falling. The continuing arrests are a mixture of probation violations, minor in possession and black market dealing. She said the industry as a whole has mixed feelings on law enforcement, but that they’re supportive of efforts to go after high-level importers or “untracked, untaxed and untested” cannabis from Outside.

“We hope to see safety in our consumers and respect from our law enforcement,” she said. “Be responsible, everybody.”

One thing not covered in marijuana-related arrests are crimes that target marijuana businesses. Those are handled akin to crimes targeting a grocery store.

Nationally, legalization advocates at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws applauded the falling arrest rates and stressed the need for a continued effort for legalization in other states. The group noted that arrests have fallen most in western states where legalization has taken root, but that they expect rates to fall in the northeast following the recent legalization in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York.

“As more states move toward the sensible policy of legalizing and regulating cannabis, we are seeing a decline in the arrest of non-violent marijuana consumers nationwide,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said in a prepared statement. "The fight for legalization is a fight for justice. While these numbers represent a historic decline in arrests, even one person being put into handcuffs for the simple possession of marijuana is too many.”

Matt Buxton is a freelance writer in Anchorage. Comments about this story? Contact

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