Americans in 19 states continue to face arrest, criminal prosecution, and incarceration for minor marijuana possession offenses, according to a comprehensive report issued by the Marijuana Policy Project

Those arrested in these jurisdictions are disproportionately African American. Consistent with other analyses, MPP reported, “In each of the states that have not yet decriminalized cannabis — and in every state nationwide — Black people are more likely than their white counterparts to be arrested for cannabis possession, despite similar use rates.” 

For example, African Americans in Kentucky were arrested for marijuana possession offenses at more than nine times the rate of whites. In Iowa and Wisconsin, Black people were arrested for possession at more than seven times the rate of whites. Black people were arrested for cannabis possession in Kansas, South Dakota, and Utah at roughly five times the rate of whites.

Overall, several hundred thousand Americans are still arrested for violating states’ marijuana laws. Over nine in ten of those arrested are charged with low-level marijuana possession offenses, not sales or trafficking. 

Majority support for legalizing marijuana exists in every state where cannabis possession remains criminalized. 

“It is long past time for these states to start taking a more just, commonsense, and fiscally responsible approach to cannabis policy,” authors concluded. “Short of legalization, states should stop needlessly ensnaring thousands of their residents in the criminal justice system each year. Now is the time for the remaining 19 states that still criminalize to reclassify possession of one ounce or less of cannabis as a civil infraction, replacing the criminal offense with a small civil fine and wiping away the criminal records of offenders convicted under the old, overly harsh laws.”

Full text of the report, “Behind The Times: The 19 States Where a Joint Can Still Land You in Jail,” is available for download.


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