Pot Arrests Up: 1 Every 45 Seconds Last Year

American law enforcement officers arrested one person for marijuana every 45 seconds in 2014, data released Monday by the Federal Bureau of Investigation show.

The nearly 701,000 marijuana arrests, about 90 percent for possession alone, reveal an increase in busts for the first time since 2009, despite the spread of more lenient laws and policies.

In 2013, by contrast, cops made about 693,000 arrests for possession, sale or production of marijuana, down from an all-time high of 873,000 in 2007.

It's unclear why the number of arrests increased last year, particularly given the nationwide sea change in attitudes about the status of marijuana and political actions that decriminalized or abolished penalties for possessing the drug.

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Retail marijuana shops opened in Colorado and Washington state in 2014, where most adults are allowed to possess small quantities of pot. In November, voters in Alaska, Oregon and the nation's capital voted to legalize it, too -- though penalties technically weren't ditched right away.

Maryland, meanwhile, decriminalized small-time pot possession in October 2014, replacing arrests with citations. The nation's largest and fifth-largest cities made similar moves, and monthly marijuana arrest rates reportedly fell about 75 percent after New York City and Philadelphia implemented the policies in November and October, respectively.

Whether the slight uptick in pot arrests is alarming or not depends on who m you ask.

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Marijuana Majority Chairman Tom Angell, a supporter of legalization, says "it's unacceptable that police still put this many people in handcuffs for something that a growing majority of Americans think should be legal."

With several states -- including Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada -- preparing to vote on legalization in 2016, following Ohio voters this November, Angell says arrest numbers should soon drop significantly.

National polls generally show majority support for marijuana legalization, with larger majorities supporting states' rights to legalize the drug or believing legalization is inevitable.

"There's just no good reason that so much police time and taxpayer money is spent punishing people for marijuana when so many murders, rapes and robberies go unsolved," Angell says, pointing out that statistics in the same FBI data dump show fewer than two-thirds of murder investigations and 40 percent of rape cases are cleared. Car theft case clearance stood at 12.8 percent.

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"As long as we have these silly laws on the books, law enforcement resources will be wasted on enforcing them," adds Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project. "These numbers refute the myth that nobody actually gets arrested for using marijuana."

Kevin Sabet, president of the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, says the uptick may be because more people are using marijuana.

More Americans did use marijuana in 2014, according to data released earlier this month from the Department of Health and Human Services' National Survey on Drug Use and Health. In 2013, that annual survey found, people 12.2 percent of people 12 and older used marijuana. Past-year marijuana use was 13 percent in 2014.

Sabet also points out there are about 2 million alcohol-related arrests each year ( most are for driving under the influence, a figure for which is not given for marijuana in the FBI report).

"What alcohol legalization teaches us is that by simply legalizing a drug we are not guaranteeing fewer arrests - indeed in the case of alcohol we have more arrests than ever," Sabet says.

Steven Nelson is a reporter at U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at snelson@usnews.com.

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