America by Drug Arrests

The United States has long been considered a place of great opportunity. It’s there that a man or woman has a chance at a good life – and for those with talent and ambition, the sky is truly the limit. Some of the world’s greatest inventors, writers, activists, leaders, and entrepreneurs have been born there, and that’s just scratching the surface. Americans love winning, especially on a global scale.

Drug Arrests

Still, there’s one leading U.S. metric that isn’t so inspirational: arrests. The “land of the free” arrested citizens nearly 10 million times in 2013 according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting system. Read on to see how this looks at a state level and how drugs are a driving force in this number.

us drug arrests by state
Drug violations are the single largest reason people get arrested in the U.S., but it’s not for trafficking or dealing: Over 80% of the time it’s for simply possessing drugs, namely marijuana. The map shows per capita drug arrests, but it also does a great job of demonstrating which states have the most progressive drug policies. States with laws decriminalizing or legalizing cannabis, such as Washington, Oregon, and Colorado, take up a much smaller area of the map compared to tough-on-crime states such as Tennessee and Florida.

Per Capita Drug Arrests: Animated Cartogram Morph

us drug arrests cartogram - animated

By visualizing the changes over several years, it’s easy to see that the Southern border states continue to have a high number of arrests. States such as Texas, Arizona and California have historically been the site of massive drug busts at border checkpoints, and a majority of illegal drugs entering the U.S. are smuggled via the southwest border. ( ( However, no area is immune: states ranging from Wyoming to South Carolina and Florida also show very high rates of drug arrests.

us juvenile drug arrests
A possible silver lining: Drug arrests among all juveniles have sharply declined from the mid-’90s to 2012, particularly among black juveniles. A possible overrepresentation of black youths among arrests may be due to more thorough reporting by urban police departments. Illicit drug use is also down for the most part for secondary school–age juveniles, with the key exception being marijuana. Teens now, more than any time in recent history, are far less likely to perceive smoking marijuana as a significant risk.

Marijuana arrests by state

Marijuana is a recurring theme in this report because it’s such a significant reason for drug arrests. However, arresting, prosecuting, and incarcerating someone for drug abuse offenses is extremely expensive and lacks the benefits of proper drug rehabilitation. In recent history, several states have legalized or decriminalized marijuana use, which will effectively eliminate the bulk of drug-related arrests in these states. In places such as New York and Illinois, where marijuana arrest rates are extremely high, there is the greatest potential for benefit from rehabilitation programs over jail time.

In those states that haven’t adopted such legislation, many continue to argue that marijuana legalization will go a long way to help congested state criminal systems, and pave the way towards emphasizing substance abuse treatment measures for those who need it. The fact remains that, legal or not, frequent marijuana use can have detrimental impact on the lives of some users – becoming a compulsion that edges out previously enjoyed activities, interferes with interpersonal relationships, and potentially diminishes productivity at work and/or school. If problems such as these are already affecting you or someone close to you, know that programs exist to provide marijuana rehabilitation – visit to find out more about treatment for marijuana and other substance abuse.

total drug arrests cartogram

The highest number of drug arrests occurs in California, Texas, and Florida. These states all have large populations, but they are also notorious for being passage states for the import of illicit drugs. Drugs produced in Central and Western South America are flown up through Mexico before crossing the U.S. border. The remainder of imported drugs often finds its way into Florida via the Caribbean. These states serve as starting points for drug distribution in America, seeding the country with highly addictive substances such as cocaine, meth, and heroin.

Total Drug Arrests: Animated Cartogram Morph

total arrests animated cartogram

percentage of drug arrests by region

We know that possession charges make up the bulk of all drug arrests in the U.S. and that marijuana arrests account for about half of those. Interestingly, however, the Western states are responsible for much less of those arrests and instead are dealing with other substance concerns such as meth, heroin, cocaine, and prescription drug abuse, all of which pose disastrous health and social consequences.

Regional differences in types of drug arrests result from a number of variables. While the numbers may indirectly reflect localized disparity in evolving drug preference trends as well as constantly changing supply lines, one thing remains constant – the phenomenon of substance abuse is one that grips the entire nation. If you are one of the many affected, and need help, visit – speak with a treatment support specialist about drug and alcohol abuse recovery options in your area, or anywhere throughout the country.

DUI Arrests

US DUI arrests by state

Excess alcohol consumption is not only unhealthy and potentially unsafe, but it also imposes heavy costs on the community. The CDC ran a study that showed excessive drinking cost the U.S. $223.5 billion in 2006. The same study estimated the costs associated with criminal justice expenses, vehicle crashes, health care, decreases in productivity, and property damage in the state of California to total in excess of $31 billion. Since that study was conducted nearly a decade ago, underage alcohol consumption and driving under the influence has been on the decline. The trend is a step in the right direction, but the percentage of people who admit to drinking and driving (10.9% in 2013) is still too high.

Per Capita DUI Arrests: Animated Sequence of Years (2000, 2003, 2010, 2013)

Overall, DUI arrests are – in most cases – highly correlated with population. When presented as a per capita measurement, however, the top states such as Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota are clustered in the West and Midwest. Notably, these states are highly rural and have some of the lowest population densities in the U.S., suggesting that a lack of widespread public transportation options could be leading intoxicated drivers to take to the road.

US juvenile DUI arrests by state

They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and such is the case with DUI arrest numbers for the nation’s juveniles. When compared to the national DUI numbers, this subset shows a very similar pattern. Perhaps more alarming is the fact that almost all underage drinking is binge drinking, which dramatically raises the risk level for DUIs.

US drug enforcement administration seizures

The perceived threat of certain drugs has changed over time, which has had a measurable impact on the efforts of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Seizures in the last several years have spiked for heroin and meth, while the numbers for marijuana and cocaine went down. Some states, especially in the New England region, have been plagued with unprecedented spikes in heroin abuse and overdose cases. As more and more opioid users transition to heroin as a cheaper alternative, the risk to the population will only continue to grow.

The unavoidable reality is that drugs in the United States are a serious problem. But are our drug policies optimized to deal with the problem in the most effective manner? Historically, the answer is no – based primarily on the unilateral criminalization of all drug-related activity and a general lack of rehab options, even for non-violent possession offenses. The transition from pills to heroin for many of New England’s addicts is a prime example of how cutting off a drug supply without providing rehabilitation will only lead to more drug-seeking behavior.

The best approach is to help people escape the grasp of drug addiction through rehabilitation and treatment, but a change in the government’s approach is slow to come. If you or someone you know is addicted to drugs, you can take proactive measures by visiting our website at We’ll help you find the support you need to break the cycle and start maintaining a drug-free lifestyle.

The majority of these maps were generated using FBI data gathered using the Uniform Crime Reporting system. The value of the UCR system is that it allows us a national roll-up and overview of crime stats using common definitions. But it requires states to submit detailed information each year, and that has not always happened.

Based on invalid or completely missing FBI OCR data, we replaced the following entries with estimates based on national averages and state populations: Alabama 2013, Nevada 2003, Kansas 2000, Wisconsin 2000, and Illinois 2000 (DUI only). We also believe that the Illinois data lacking, but it was left unadjusted.

To generate the cartograms used here, we employed ARC GIS and the services of a cartographer.

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