A look at how states differ in their DUI and drug enforcement, this visualization combines data from two highly reputable sources – the FBI and SAMHSA. It explores the number of arrests per active user as well as the number of arrests per citizen, which provides a more extensive outlook compared to other heat maps focusing on alcohol and drug use. Delve in and discover how drastically different these crimes are enforced throughout the United States.
Rhode Island, Vermont, and Massachusetts have strikingly low rates of arrests for marijuana-related crimes. While Illinois has a high of over 30,000 arrests per 100,000 pot users, Massachusetts comes in last in the nation with only 275. That’s a hundredfold difference. So what’s behind this massive variation?
It’s simple: In many New England states, use of marijuana is often no longer a crime at all. In 2009, Massachusetts decriminalized possession of an ounce or less of pot. Rather than being a criminal offense, it’s now a civil violation, with tickets and fines issued.1 So, while most states have faced a trend of increasing possession arrests, these charges have actually declined in Massachusetts.2
Rhode Island, too, has seen benefits from decriminalizing pot possession; according to one state senator, “What I’ve heard is, it has created some relief for law enforcement and the judiciary.”3 And as Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin said upon signing a bill to decriminalize possession, “This legislation allows our courts and law enforcement to focus their limited resources more effectively to fight highly addictive opiates such as heroin and prescription drugs that are tearing apart families and communities.”4
Even as some states have taken a more lenient approach to marijuana, others, like Illinois and New York, have ramped up their enforcement efforts. New York has the second-highest rate of marijuana arrests in the nation – 17,095 per 100,000 users. From 2002 to 2012, New York City police spent almost 1 million hours on arresting 440,000 individuals for minor marijuana possession offenses (25 grams of cannabis or less).5 These enforcement efforts represented a record high for New York City.6,7 In response to this wave of arrests, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo lent his support to decriminalization, saying, “It must end, and it must end now.”
While Vermont has decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, the use of illicit substances other than marijuana is still a significant problem for the state. Vermont’s rate of illicit drug use – 2,826 drug users per 100,000 people – is the seventh-highest in the nation. The state now faces high rates of cocaine use, heroin use, and overall drug trafficking.
Barbara Cimaglio of the Vermont Department of Health attributes this to various factors: the state’s colder climate, the more liberal attitudes of its residents, and the connections to big cities. As Cimaglio said, “We’re on that highway between Montreal, Boston, New York, and also going to Philadelphia… so it seems like some people are just trafficking along the way and Vermont is one of the stops.”8
Hard drugs are also more profitable in distant Vermont than they would be in urban areas. According to Police Chief Jim Baker, the value of a bag of heroin can increase sixfold in Vermont. Addictive prescription drugs remain a problem as well: Nationally, only Maine outranks Vermont in admissions to treatment facilities for prescription opiate addiction.9
When it comes to alcohol abuse, the news isn’t encouraging for North Dakota. This chilly, sparsely populated state ranks first in the nation for both binge drinking and the number of DUI arrests per capita. With 24,251 residents per 100,000 reporting that they engage in binge drinking, alcohol consumption is clearly this state’s vice of choice.
Unsurprisingly, North Dakota also comes in first when counting how many bars are in the state – one for every 1,621 residents.10 Bar Manager Jason Stein explained, “It’s not surprising at all... There really isn’t anything else to do in a town of like 200 people.” North Dakota also lacks a state agency to regulate alcohol, and liquor licenses are issued by city governments.
Underage drinking is a significant problem as well. A 2011 CDC report found that 11.7% of North Dakota teens drove after drinking within the past month – a 20% increase in teen drunk driving over the past decade.11
In stark contrast to states like North Dakota and Vermont, Utah ranks last or near-last in the nation for both per capita marijuana use and binge drinking. With only 3,091 pot users and 12,895 binge drinkers per 100,000 residents, what’s behind Utah’s trend of record sobriety?
One factor may be cultural attitudes toward substance use. Utah has a higher population of Mormons – about 60% – than any other state, and adherents of this faith typically regard substances like alcohol, tobacco, and even caffeine to be unhealthy.12,13 And it’s not an isolated trend: With the second-highest Mormon population in the country, Idaho also falls in the bottom 10 for marijuana use and binge drinking.
In keeping with this pattern, Utah also has the lowest levels of underage drinking nationwide at 14.3%, next to a national average of 26.6%. Vermont, by comparison, reported rates of 37%.14 Altogether, it seems that Utah’s favorite habit may be teetotaling.
The data visualized in this project comes from the FBI’s annual “Crime in the United States” report and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
The numbers of DUI, marijuana, and illicit drug arrests in 2012 by state was obtained from the FBI report, which gives the number of juvenile arrests and overall arrests. To get the number of adult arrests, the number of juvenile arrests was subtracted from the overall number. Note that illicit drug arrests in the FBI’s report are arrests for drugs other than marijuana.
Data from the SAMHSA survey gives the percentage of different age groups in each state who report having used marijuana or illicit drugs or participated in binge drinking in the past month. According to SAMHSA, “Binge alcohol use is defined as drinking five or more drinks on the same occasion.”
Because SAMHSA’s data was in the form of percentages of different age groups, U.S. Census data was used to determine the size of each age group. This allowed the conversion of the SAMHSA percentages to actual numbers of adults reporting themselves as marijuana/drug users and binge drinkers.
This project seeks to visualize how the strictness of DUI and drug law enforcement varies across the United States. To get the best sense of this, the state-by-state arrests were divided by the state-by-state users. This figure was then multiplied by 100,000 to give arrests per 100,000 active adult users.
The other figures looked at by this project are arrests per 100,000 adults and users per 100,000 adults. For the first of these figures, the FBI’s number of arrests was divided by the adult population given in its same report, and then multiplied by 100,000. For the second of these figures, SAMHSA’s self-reported users by state were divided by the state-by-state adult population given in the FBI’s report, and then multiplied by 100,000.
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