Washington, DC: The estimated number of persons arrested in the United States for violating marijuana laws declined precipitously in 2020, according to data released today by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation. Nonetheless, several hundred thousand Americans continue to be arrested on marijuana-related charges, primarily in states where possession of the plant remains criminally outlawed.

According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, police made an estimated 350,150 arrests for marijuana-related violations in 2020. (This total is calculated by multiplying the total percentage of marijuana arrests by region with the total number of estimated drug abuse violations [Table 29.]) This total is a 36 percent decrease from 2019 totals when police made an estimated 545,602 marijuana-related arrests. Not since the early 1990s, has the FBI reported so few marijuana-related arrests in a single year.

“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.

He added: “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.”

Of those arrested for cannabis-related activities, some 91 percent (317,793) were arrested for marijuana possession offenses only.

Overall, marijuana arrests are down almost 50 percent from their peak in 2008, when police made over 800,000 marijuana-related arrests. Since 2012, 18 states and Washington, DC have enacted laws legalizing the possession of small amounts of cannabis by adults. Marijuana arrests represented 30.3 percent of all drug-related arrests.

According to the FBI, marijuana-related arrests were least likely to occur in western states — most of which have legalized the possession of the substance — and were most prevalent in the northeast, where they constituted an estimated 50 percent of all drug arrests. This will likely change going forward, as several northeastern states, including Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York have all legalized their marijuana markets in recent months.

For more information, contact either Erik Altieri, NORML Executive Director, or Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director at media@norml.org or 202-483-5500.


NORML advocates for changes in public policy so that the responsible possession and use of marijuana by adults is no longer subject to criminal penalties. NORML further advocates for a regulated commercial cannabis market so that activities involving the for-profit production and retail sale of cannabis and cannabis products are safe, transparent, consumer-friendly, and are subject to state and/or local licensure. Finally, NORML advocates for additional changes in legal and regulatory policies so that those who use marijuana responsibly no longer face either social stigma or workplace discrimination, and so that those with past criminal records for marijuana-related violations have the opportunity to have their records automatically expunged.

Find out more at norml.org and read our Fact Sheets on the most common misconceptions and myths regarding reform efforts around the country

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