Why North Dakota Should Legalize Pot: Arrests Involving Marijuana Have Increased 119 Percent Since 2009


Over the weekend my colleague April Baumgarten wrote an eye-opening piece about drug arrests in North Dakota.

Particularly startlingly was how those arrests have grown recently.

“Arrests related to marijuana in North Dakota have increased every year since 2009 from 1,533 to 3,362 arrests in 2016, according to Attorney General’s Office data,” she reports.

That’s a more than 119 percent increase in just seven years. Also surprising is this: “In North Dakota, more than 50 percent of the drug arrests have involved marijuana for several years, according to the Attorney General’s Office.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, according to data reported to lawmakers by the state Department of Corrections, general fund appropriations to the state’s prisons have increased nearly 50 percent in roughly that same time window, and 163 percent since the 2003 – 2005 biennium:

From the same report, we can see that the Department of Corrections inmate population increased 16 percent during that time. Perhaps more importantly, since routine pot busts aren’t likely generate much prison time, the number of people on parole/probation increased more than 33 percent during that time (the data I have only goes through 2015):

In summary, arrests for the use/possession of a relatively benign drug that’s increasingly legal across the country has skyrocketed. Alongside that increase, we’ve seen significant increases in prison populations, probation and parole counts, and spending on prisons.

Granted, the problems with growing spending on the Department of Corrections are bigger than the marijuana issue, but the two are certainly related.

But what if recreational use of marijuana were just, you know, legal? Our cops would be freed up to focus on other priorities, and we’d see some of the burden taken off our judicial and corrections systems.

That’s a powerful argument for the proponents of a ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana. The organizers of the measure are collecting signatures now – they need 13,452 by July 9 to make the November ballot – and their proposal is worth serious consideration from voters.

Law and order types will scoff at the utility of legalizing marijuana, but with arrests spiraling alongside costs to taxpayers, what exactly is marijuana prohibition accomplishing?