Marijuana Prison Statistics

20 Mind-Boggling Marijuana Prison Statistics

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The US has the highest incarceration rate globally, and many people believe the blame belongs to the country’s existing laws on marijuana use.

This presumption is not baseless since the statistics on the number of people in prison for marijuana charges show a consistently significant number since the campaign against illegal substances started.

While most of the population condemned the use of cannabis decades ago, public opinion is now gearing towards the legalization of its use.

And with this trend, many people hope to see the country’s marijuana prison statistics decline, which could lead to a decrease in the country’s incarceration rate.

Top Discerning Facts on Marijuana Incarceration (Editor’s Choice)

  • The most common reason for arrests on US college campuses is drug violations.
  • Law enforcers arrest individuals every 27 seconds on drug-related charges.
  • Researchers can’t find any evidence that points to the correlation of marijuana legalization to its usage.
  • Most researchers believe marijuana legalization will not lead to increased cases of violence and crime.
  • Law enforcers arrest more Americans for cannabis offenses than for all types of violent crimes combined.
  • The majority of marijuana arrests in the US are on possession charges only.
  • The US war on drugs is racially disproportionate towards Black Americans.

Drug Incarceration Statistics

1. The most common reason for arrests on US college campuses is drug violations.


Arrests on account of drug violations don’t just happen on the streets but also on university premises.

The most recent available data reports that law enforcers made 18,166 arrests inside campuses across the US in a single year.

This is more than the arrests made on campuses for liquor law violations, with only 12,915 arrests. 

2. Law enforcers arrest individuals every 27 seconds on drug-related charges.

(Marijuana Moment)

According to the FBI’s 2020 war on drugs statistics, law enforcers made 1,155,610 arrests for drug offenses amid the coronavirus pandemic. This means that drug arrests happen every 27 seconds.

3. Law enforcers arrest 234 youths for every 100,000 people aged between 10 and 17 on drugs.


Drug arrests aren’t limited to adults. Unfortunately, law enforcers also reprimand a significant number of youths because of drug abuse.

In fact, according to juvenile drug arrests statistics published in 2021, the police arrested 234 per 100,000 youths on average across the nation.

This might seem like a low arrest rate, but a significant number of states make more juvenile arrests than the national average.

For instance, in Wyoming, law enforcers recorded an arrest rate of 901 per 100,000 youths.

4. State prisons jailed approximately 191,000 people on drug charges.

(Prison Policy)

The drug arrests statistics published in 2020, having numbers by state, report that 191,000 out of 1,291,000 state prisoners are serving time for drug charges.

Meanwhile, violent crimes accounted for 713,000 imprisoned people in state prisons.

This massive discrepancy in the number of incarcerations between drug charges and violent crimes shows that drug arrest isn’t the only reason behind the mass incarceration number.

Marijuana Prison Statistics

Marijuana Usage Stats

5. Researchers can’t find any evidence that points to the correlation between marijuana legalization and its usage.


Many people have expressed concerns that marijuana legalization might lead to an increased usage of the substance.

However, one recent study on marijuana legalization statistics shows no evidence of a correlation between legalization and usage.

On the contrary, researchers found a 16% decline in the frequency of use among adolescents after the legalization of the substance for adult recreational use.

6. An additional marijuana dispensary in an area where marijuana is legal reduces crime rates in the neighborhood.


A study on marijuana dispensaries and criminal activities shows that a supplementary dispensary can positively impact a neighborhood.

In fact, marijuana criminal statistics show a reduction in crimes by 17 cases per 10,000 population per month for communities with an additional marijuana dispensary.

7. Most researchers believe marijuana legalization will not lead to increased cases of violence and crime.

(University of Washington)

People who oppose the legalization of marijuana often argue that cannabis increases a person’s inclination to become violent and commit crimes.

This people group believes that once legalized, marijuana users can easily access the substance, and would result in increased cases of violent crimes.

However, an analysis of marijuana and crimes statistics in the District of Columbia, where marijuana is legal, shows no evidence of a spike in crimes after the legalization. 

On the contrary, robbery, assault, and homicide cases continue to decrease by 1% despite the legalization.

Marijuana Prison Statistics

Marijuana Prison Statistics in the US

8. The country’s war on drugs left tens of thousands of Americans in prison because of marijuana-related offenses.

(Cato Institute)

Despite the legalization of marijuana in most states, many Americans are still serving time in prison because of cannabis.

According to marijuana prison statistics, approximately 40,000 people are still imprisoned for charges that turn out to be legal in some areas.

9. Law enforcers arrest more Americans for cannabis offenses than all types of violent crimes combined.


Many states may have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use, but the substance is still illegal federally.

This is why it’s not surprising that statistics on marijuana arrests reveal that law enforcers arrest more people for cannabis-related offenses than for all types of violent crimes.

The most recent available data shows that arrests for marijuana offenses are 9% higher than for violent crimes.

10. The majority of marijuana arrests in the US are on possession charges only.


According to marijuana arrests statistics, the individuals arrested for marijuana-related offenses don’t benefit from the substance by growing or selling it.

About 92% of the more than half-million cannabis arrests are for simple possession of the substance. It means that the unregulated trade of marijuana accounts for only 8% of the total arrests law enforcers make.

11. According to marijuana conviction statistics, most people arrested for cannabis trafficking received less than five years of incarceration.


Although there are cases where arrested individuals for marijuana trafficking crimes received more than ten years of imprisonment, the majority only get five years or less.

In fact, approximately 80.3% of those arrested for marijuana crimes received a sentence length of five years or less.

However, even the lowest incarceration might still be a long time for marijuana trafficking, considering it’s legal in most states.

12. Marijuana arrests declined drastically amid the coronavirus pandemic.

(Marijuana Moment)

There was a significant decline in the number of cannabis-related arrests in 2020. According to marijuana arrests statistics for 2019, the police arrested 545,601 individuals because of marijuana.

That means every 58 seconds, one person was arrested for a marijuana offense.

In contrast, there were only 350,150 cases of cannabis arrests out of the 1,155,610 overall drug arrests in 2020. That means that law enforcers arrest one offender every 90 seconds for cannabis-related charges.

Some researchers suppose this drastic dip in the arrest rate results from social distancing protocols and lockdown measures that discouraged people from going outside.

This response reduced the risk of getting caught for simple possession of marijuana.

13. Marijuana prisoners statistics show the majority of marijuana law offenders are male.


For the Fiscal Year 2020, the United States Sentencing Commission gathered data on marijuana trafficking offenses and the characteristics of the offenders.

According to the agency’s data, the majority of those who committed marijuana trafficking were men. That’s approximately 88.8% of the total people arrested for marijuana trafficking offenses.

14. The majority of marijuana offenders arrested in the Fiscal Year 2020 have no criminal history.


According to the marijuana incarceration statistics of the Fiscal Year 2020, approximately 65.4% of the marijuana trafficking offenders had minimal or no previous criminal history.

Only 1.9% of the offenders were considered career offenders, who had at least two felony convictions for the same marijuana trafficking offense.

15. Marijuana decriminalization and legalization have the potential to reduce arrest rates significantly.


Several supporters of marijuana legalization believe amendments in the country’s drug policies can reduce the number of people incarcerated. It appears there might be some truth to this assumption.

One particular study analyzed the marijuana imprisonment statistics after the decriminalization and legalization of the substance in some states and its effects on arrest rates.

According to the study, arrest rates in adults decreased by 131.28 per 100,000 population after decriminalization and 168.50 per 100,000 after legalization.

16. Marijuana juvenile arrests in Colorado have decreased significantly since legalization.

(Colorado Public Radio)

Colorado was one of the two states that legalized the recreational use of the substance. Now, almost a decade after the legalization, citizens see significant results in the marijuana juvenile arrest rates in the state.

The statistics on marijuana prison for youths show a 37% decline in the number of arrested youths because of cannabis. However, some researchers point out the racial disparity even in juvenile arrests.

For example, white American youths experienced a 47% decline in arrest rate since the legalization of the substance, while Black juveniles had a 41% decline.

17. States that have legalized marijuana use have lower marijuana possession arrest rates than states where the substance is entirely illegal.


Researchers might not have sufficient evidence to support assumptions that cannabis legalization affects weed usage or violent crime rate, but it clearly has an impact on arrest rates.

According to weed incarceration statistics, states that have legalized marijuana experienced a drastic decline in arrest rates.

For example, in nine years, marijuana possession arrest rates in states where marijuana is legal for recreational use dropped from 174 to 25 per 100,000 population.

In contrast, states, where weed is entirely illegal, experienced a rise in their arrest rates for the same period from 256 to 280 per 100,000 population.

Marijuana Prison Statistics

Racial Disparity in Marijuana and Prison Statistics

18. The racial disparity for marijuana arrests has worsened in some jurisdictions.


Despite the legalization of marijuana and the decline in the national arrest rate for cannabis, racial disparity in the arrests continues to permeate the country.

The most evident inequality happens to Black Americans. In fact, according to marijuana prison statistics for some jurisdictions, Blacks were ten times more likely to be arrested in those areas.

This rate is worse than a decade ago when fewer states have legalized marijuana.

19. The US war on drugs is racially disproportionate towards Black Americans.


The most recent marijuana arrest statistics show a severe racial disparity in the arrest rates of African Americans and White Americans for cannabis-related offenses.

Despite almost similar usage rates between the two races, data suggests that Blacks are 3.64 times more likely to get arrested than White Americans.

This leads many people to conclude that current strategies on drug law enforcement are racially biased.

20. Approximately 95% of counties with a significant number of Black residents have a higher arrest rate for people of color.


The marijuana prison stats in different states and counties across the country report inequality in arrest rates for Black Americans.

Studies show that more than 95% of counties with more than 30,000 residents, where at least 1% are Blacks, have a higher marijuana arrest rate for people of color.

This shows conclusive proof that the country’s war on drugs policy is prejudiced against Blacks.


Marijuana arrests are filling up federal and state prisons with incarcerated individuals guilty of simple possession and use charges.

This is one of the reasons why many people are campaigning for its legalization. And many states may have succeeded in legalizing the substance, yet marijuana arrests are consistently high. 

Based on recent statistics on how many people are in prison over marijuana, law enforcers are still arresting many people because of cannabis despite its legalization in several states.

Clearly, there’s still a disconnect between marijuana policies and law enforcers’ implementation of those laws.


Although it’s difficult to know for sure how many people are in prison for marijuana charges, most researchers seem to agree with 40,000 as the closest estimate.

The charges are primarily for trafficking or possession of a significant amount of the substance.

Despite the significant number of arrests law enforcers make because of marijuana, most make it out of prison almost immediately.

Most researchers admit that it’s difficult to distinguish the number of imprisoned Americans for marijuana charges by race because the figures vary per region.

However, they believe the racial disparity between Black Americans and White Americans exists nationwide.

Studies on the data and statistics of federal and state prisons show that Blacks are 3.64 times more likely to be imprisoned than white Americans.

Marijuana might be legal in some states, but it’s still illegal on a federal level. If you get arrested for marijuana charges, your jail time will depend on the number of times you get caught.

You could face up to one year imprisonment for the first possession offense, which is still considered a misdemeanor.

For the subsequent violations, the penalty will increase to punishment under felony, which could range from 90 days to three years imprisonment.

Marijuana charges carry different punishments and penalties. While arrested individuals for possession charges can still face imprisonment, the length of incarceration for distribution and cultivation is longer.

Individuals charged with marijuana possession can face up to three years of imprisonment with fines ranging from $1,000 to $5,000.

For marijuana distribution or cultivation charges, incarceration ranges from five years to life imprisonment. The fines go as high as $250,000 to $1 million.

In some states, the number of arrested individuals for marijuana charges has drastically declined in 2020 because of the substance’s legalization for personal use.

Some analysts believe the coronavirus pandemic also played a significant role. In addition, as social distancing protocols were set in place, more people stayed at home, which reduced their risk of getting caught with weed.

According to marijuana prison statistics, the police made only 350,150 arrests for marijuana-related charges, down from the previous year’s half-million arrests law enforcers made.