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The Five States with the Most Drug Arrests Per Capita (and the Five with the Fewest) [FEATURE]

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #1067)

Thanks to a new report on state-by-state drug issues, courtesy of WalletHub, we now have a good idea which are the most perilous for people who use drugs, whether its marijuana, mushrooms, or methamphetamines. (The report doesn't break down which drugs people were arrested for.)

The Five States with the Highest Rates of Drug Arrests

  1. South Dakota (tie)
  2. Wyoming (tie)
  3. South Carolina (tie)
  4. North Dakota
  5. Mississippi

We have a three-way tie for worst place and, notably, a clear regional pattern. Three of the top drug arrest states are neighbors in the thinly populated region where the northern plains eventually run into the Rocky Mountains. All are deep red states. The other two are in the heart of Dixie, and are also deep red.

There are more than a million drug arrests in the US each year. Some places are more into it than others, though. (Cr. Commons)
None of these states has legalized or even decriminalized marijuana (North Dakota just decriminalized this month, but it's not in effect yet), which accounts for roughly half of all drug arrests. So there's that, too.

An oft-heard lament of bikers attending the annual Sturgis motorcycle rally in South Dakota's Black Hills is that "you come for a stroll, but leave on parole" (or, in a more optimistic variant, "you come on vacation, but leave on probation"). One reason for that and for the state's number one ranking here is South Dakota"s unlawful ingestion or "internal possession" law, a uniquely regressive andst repressive addition to the drug war armory.

Under that law, anyone who tests positive for drugs is subject to a criminal penalty -- a misdemeanor in the case of marijuana, a felony for other illicit drugs. And state law enforcement routinely seeks drug tests from arrestees. If they refuse to consent, state judges routinely rubber stamp search warrant requests, and law enforcement threatens to forcibly catheterize uncooperative arrestees. Something to keep in mind on your way to Mt. Rushmore this summer.

The law applies even if the drug were ingested elsewhere. Consider that. Someone who lawfully used medical marijuana in neighboring Montana, North Dakota, or Minnesota could come to South Dakota, get hit by a car crossing the street, get drug tested in the hospital, and be arrested for unlawful ingestion under state law. Likewise, someone who smoked marijuana in neighboring Nebraska, where it is decriminalized, could face a stiffer punishment for having pot in his urine in South Dakota than if he had been caught with actual marijuana in Nebraska, where he would just pay a fine.

A bill that would remove unlawful ingestion charges for marijuana died in the legislature earlier this year. A bill to study the unlawful ingestion law, SB 167 has been signed into law this year, but only after it was amended to remove any specific mention of unlawful ingestion. Instead, it sets up a commission to study alternatives to imprisonment for drug offenses.

The Five States with the Lowest Rates of Drug Arrests

  1. Alaska
  2. Massachusetts
  3. Washington
  4. Vermont
  5. Rhode Island

Again, a clear regional pattern emerges. Three of these states are in New England, while the other two are in the Pacific Northwest (stretching it a bit for Alaska). All of them except Alaska are deep blue states.

And all of them except Rhode Island are legal marijuana states. Rhode Island is a decriminalization state. No wonder these states have the lowest drug arrest rates; half of all drug arrests go up in smoke with legalization, or even decrim.

Two of these states -- Massachusetts and Washington -- have Law Enforcement-Assisted Diversion (LEAD) programs, which shunt potential drug arrestees into the public health and drug treatment systems instead of the criminal justice system. That shrinks drug arrest numbers, too.

And it shrinks arrest numbers not only by detouring drug offenders into treatment or social services instead of the courts, but also by producing a much lower future arrest rate among people who have been diverted. In Seattle, where LEAD was first introduced, people in the program were 58% less likely to be rearrested.

So… if you're headed for Mt. Rushmore or Ft. Sumter, you've been warned. Maybe visiting Plymouth Rock or Mt. Denali might be a safer choice.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Seth Tyrssen (not verified)

This "Reefer Madness" mentality remains primitive, untrue, and horribly prevalent even to this day.  It's astonishing.  Cannabis (so-called "marijuana") is a SACRED HERB, with a sentient spirit of its own; a "little piece of God," so to speak.  "Cantheists" view it the same way some "Indian" tribes view the mescal cactus, also a Sacred plant.  Roger Christie's "THC Ministries" goes into this in great detail, from a Christian point of view.  Bill Levin runs a church in Indiana, using cannabis as a sacrament.  Here in Georgia, Rainer Smith was murdered in 2016 by a multi-jurisdictional task force, for the odious crime of having cannabis.  Angela Brown nearly went to prison for two years, for saving her son's life with cannabis when all "conventional medicine" failed.  There are many, many other victims of Prohibition, both famous and unknown.  IT'S TIME TO PUT A STOP TO THIS MADNESS.  It goes beyond both "medicinal" and "recreational" issues -- prohibition is an attack on your freedom of religion, as well.  As soon as possible, we of the Temple of Ankh'n'Abis (Church of the Sacred Herb) will be putting our newsletters up on a web site.  Watch for it.  We are outspoken and radical, and say that if the government remains backwards and oppressive, all for the sake of stealing still more of your money, it's time to SECEDE and have a Third American Revolution.

Thu, 05/23/2019 - 11:23am Permalink
Time Traveler (not verified)

Avoid them. Avoid their businesses. Avoid the summer tourist attractions. Find an alternative human-friendly state and move the "Sturgis" celebration there. The entire area around the Black Hills depends on this one event for their yearly annual profit. Let the business owners all along the routes to these destinations why you'll be spending your tourism dollars elsewhere. Isolate them economically. That's where your power lies. Use it.
Thu, 05/23/2019 - 3:59pm Permalink
Sam Quentin (not verified)

I live in one of those Top 3 states for incarceration, am a transplant from other more "liberal" states, and have been amazed at:
1. The amount of drugs and large number of hard drug users, throughout the state, by a wide-range of people.  Ironically, you can drive a mere mile outside most any state prison facility and see tons of wild (but still illegal) ditch weed growing, in abundance, most everywhere.
Honestly, it is not uncommon to know someone on parole or whom have completed their sentence, and/or even know people that have been conviced of fairly hard-drugs convictions (i.e. meth/fen/etc, including distribution).
It just seems a way of life in this "conservative" state.
And it seems far too many people in the community/sate on constantly on edge, as they assume most everyone is a criminal, since the element is everywhere (often created by the state, via Draconian laws, and the fact most parolees have to stay in state, even if originally from out of state, thus an ever-growing number of parolees are sent to communities).

2. The harshness of many of the sentences in initial drug arrests (often 5 yrs, even for any amount of THC, with 3.5 yrs suspended based on successful parole, like work-release for the prison-sponsored manufacturering industry).  
It's a process that often does far more harm than good.  Except for those with strong family support (seemingly a rarity), jobs are lost.  Apartments, homes, possessions are often lost - leading to situations where parolees often have to start from ground zero upon release, only now with a felone record & the stima associated with it.

3. The large volume of repeat arrests, recidivism, parole vioations, etc.
It's a Revolving-Door "judicial" system, where parolees are released based often on mere systematic processes (i.e. the aforementioned 5/3.5yr schema above), minus any real rehab or help for any real problems.
They often go back to the same old routines.
Where I live, where daily arrest reports are published, it is typical to see the same names, again & again, for the same, or often increasingly worsening crimes.
The police spend some 50%-60% or more of their time on the same people.

One other problem, that "criminal" mentality goes far beyond convicted felons.
It is "dog eat dog".  So many people get what excess they can for themselves, leaving others out.

Tue, 08/22/2023 - 9:00pm Permalink

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