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Justice Department Shows Federal Marijuana Arrests Continue to Decline

New reports look promising when it comes to the number marijuana possession arrests according to the Department of Justice.

Encouragingly, arrests have been on the steady decline for more than ten years, though the number of incarcerated people who committed non-violent cannabis-related offenses, is still disparagingly high.

Although changes regarding the legalization of marijuana within the federal government are promising, advocates and anti-prohibitionists are pushing for quicker, long-overdue results.

Multiple Factors At Play

When considering the numbers, it becomes evident that marijuana-related arrests have been on a steady decline for many years. It is important, however, in understanding this trend, to also understand the factors that are contributing to the steady trend.

Like literally everything else in the world, the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic noticeably impacted the implementation of penalties regarding the recreational possession and use of marijuana.

Although that is worth noting, it is also essential to recognize that marijuana-related arrests have been on a consistent decline since 2010. According to the Department of Justice, the Drug Enforcement Agency made more than 8000 arrests for cannabis-related crimes in 2010. In 2020 on the other hand, there were just 2500; an annual decrease of 11%.

Lastly, and importantly, experts believe the decline can equally be attributed to caution taken by the Obama administration in regard to cannabis-related offenses. Though such caution was thrown to the wind during the Trump era, the Department of Justice remains reticent when issuing penalties for marijuana-related offenses.

A Steep Decline

According to the report released by the Department of Justice, drug-related cases made up a whopping 16% of all federal arrests in 2020. Worth noting, however, is that the vast majority of these arrests were related to methamphetamines, heroin, and cocaine. Marijuana arrests have seen a continued – and important – decline. As a matter of fact, cannabis arrests are the only arrests that have followed a general downward trajectory. Both those of methamphetamines and cocaine have trended upwards.

Shockingly, the report also announced that drug-related offenses are the number one cause of all federal incarcerations.

Nevertheless, in 2021 the numbers concerning marijuana-related prosecutions continued to drop. In 2020, more than 1100 people were prosecuted for cannabis-related incidents. Conversely, in 2021, that number dropped to 1000.

Legalization Of The Nation

It likely comes as no surprise that the continued legalization of marijuana at the state level has drastically contributed to the downward trends we are seeing. According to information released by the FBI at the end of 2020, cannabis arrests at the federal level showed a decline for the first time in four years.

Reassuring is the fact that these trends are likely to continue. Firstly, more and more states are abandoning prohibitionist mindsets and moving toward legislation that legalizes not only the medical use of marijuana, but the recreational use as well. Furthermore, according to Marijuana Moment, the trend will be supported by the federal Justice Department which is being led by Attorney General Merrick Garland who has openly spoken out against the penalization of low-level marijuana-related offenses.

Lawmakers and members of Congress have continued to advocate for the legalization of marijuana at the federal level, with the latest vote on the matter having taken place at the beginning of April. This is the second time the House has approved the matter, but it has seen continued hesitancy amongst the Senate.

Nevertheless, the Drug Enforcement Agency is undoubtedly making fewer arrests, all the while producing more and more licenses for cannabis production, which are both undeniable steps forward.



The decline in federal marijuana arrests is a promising pattern to witness. Though a number of factors are at play such as the Coronavirus pandemic, the legalization of marijuana at the state level, and more reticence on behalf of the Department of Justice, there is more work to be done in order to end prohibition in the country.

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