Marijuana-related arrests have risen from 1,533 in 2009 to 3,362 in 2016, according to a report by the North Dakota Attorney General’s office.
The Attorney General’s office also released statistics showing marijuana makes up more than half of the drug arrests in North Dakota.
Grand Forks Police Deputy Chief Jim Remer believes these statistics might be due to legal confusion.
People might not be aware that marijuana consumption is illegal in North Dakota because of America’s “patchwork” of laws Remer said.
Eight states and the District of Colombia have legalized recreational marijuana; Vermont and Canada are set to legalize marijuana in July.
“I think at times people can get very frustrated over that because they maybe don’t understand that or think, ‘It’s legal there. It should be something that is OK here.’ That’s just not the case,” Remer explained.
Remer added that the police will continue to enforce the laws of the state and that users should know the local laws before lighting up.
NDSU professor Steven Briggs is not surprised by the fact that marijuana accounts for over half of drug arrests. “Marijuana is the most commonly used illegal substance outside alcohol for some age groups,” Briggs said.
Briggs did question the correlation between arrest records and actual use of marijuana.
“When you look at arrest figures, it’s not a direct indicator of drug usage; it’s drug usage plus the police behaviors that lead to the identification of drugs in the first place,” Briggs said.
According to Briggs, “most drug arrests, we believe, are made in the context of traffic stops, and the way in which the drugs are identified is because of a search by the officers. So some of those searches will be discretionary.”
Briggs said sometimes the contraband can be in plain view of the officer and thus no discretion is needed.
Officers can also use discretion when making the arrest Briggs said.
The actual statistics on marijuana use according to Briggs show a “slight general increase in marijuana usage in the last couple of years, but it’s not a substantial rise by any means. It’s actually a pretty small rise in marijuana usage.”
This trend of arrests, however, has been visible in multiple large-scale busts recently. In the last two months, Stutsman County reported two busts, netting 676 pounds of marijuana.
Two University of North Dakota students were recently put on trial after getting caught with 60 pounds of marijuana, large amounts of cash and a rifle.
Highway Patrol Lt. Michael Roark said many of the perpetrators are passing through North Dakota on their way to other states.
According to Josh Dryer, the campaign manager for the organization LegalizeND, “all of that trafficking would come down if it were legal within (North Dakota).”
LegalizeND is collecting signatures to create a ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana for the November election, and Dryer said there is a real market for the drug in North Dakota.
Dryer said North Dakotans will resort to illegal trafficking in order to obtain marijuana if North Dakota does not legalize the substance.