It seems as if every election cycle brings with it debates about drugs or policy changes pertaining to their use. More and more states have legalized marijuana in one form or another. It shows a general softening on the opinion of that particular drug, even if Attorney General Jeff Sessions doesn’t agree. Although attitudes toward marijuana are changing, the war on drugs is still a huge expenditure for the federal government. And because the United States locks up a disproportionate number of people, many prisoners are in for drug offenses.
According to data from the Prison Policy Initiative, more than 2.3 million people in the United States are behind bars in federal, state, or juvenile institutions. A report from the United States Sentencing Commission shows more than 48% of all federal inmates are in prison on drug charges. And some states are more likely to put you in prison because of drugs than others. Here are the 11 states where you’re most likely to be locked up because of drug offenses, based on the percentage of drug convictions per state. Did your state make the list?
- Number of drug convictions: 2,552
- Percentage of total convictions: 44.2%
Of the five states to reach four figures in federal drug convictions, Arizona is the only one to make the list. Drug sentences put the most Arizona residents in prison and edged immigration (42.7%) in the rate of conviction. An overwhelming majority of Arizona’s drug convictions stemmed from one drug, marijuana, which accounted for 2,131 of all of the state’s drug cases.
Next: Middle America pit stop
- Number of drug convictions: 240
- Percentage of total convictions: 44.3%
Of the 542 federal cases looked at by the United States Sentencing Commission, 240 in Nebraska were drug cases. More than 4 in 5 of those cases (194) were related to methamphetamine. Drug cases outpaced the next four categories combined: immigration (14.2%), firearms (11.3%), fraud (10%), and a collection of other offenses (8.3%).
Next: Swinging through a Southern state
- Number of drug convictions: 358
- Percentage of total convictions: 46.4%
In the data collected by the United States Sentencing Commission, more than 46% of the 771 federal cases in Kentucky were drug cases. Of those, half were chalked up to methamphetamine and heroin cases.
Next: East Coast state with a ton of drug convictions
- Number of drug convictions: 142
- Percentage of total convictions: 46.7
The number of federal drug convictions in Connecticut just goes to show that drugs affect people of all social classes. The state had a per-capita income of more than $66,000 as of 2015, and close to half of all the 304 federal criminal cases were for drugs. Connecticut was particularly ardent in prosecuting crack (56) and heroin (45) cases.
Next: A state that helps us inch closer to the 50% mark
- Number of drug convictions: 302
- Percentage of total convictions: 47.9%
In a theme that will continue to show up on our list, methamphetamine is a particular problem in states that can be broadly described as rural. Close to 7 in 10 federal drug cases in Arkansas resulting in convictions were related to meth.
Next: This state had hundreds of convictions related to one drug in particular.
- Number of drug convictions: 689
- Percentage of total convictions: 48%
It’s no stretch to say Tennessee has a problem with just one drug in particular. Of the 1,434 cases that resulted in pleas or convictions, 303 were tied to meth in Tennessee, according to the United States Sentencing Commission data. That’s 21.1% of the state’s total cases.
Next: A capital area for drug convictions
4. Washington, D.C.
- Number of drug convictions: 124
- Percentage of total convictions: 48.6%
At a little over 68 square miles, Washington, D.C., holds its own against some much larger states in the percentage of drug convictions. Washington had 255 federal cases, of which 124 were drug-related. Of those, most were chalked up to cocaine (45 cases) and heroin (39 cases).
Next: Crossing the 50% threshold
- Number of drug convictions: 71
- Percentage of total convictions: 50.4%
A vast majority of the states that have the highest percentage of drug offenses are in the South or East, but Hawaii bucks the trend. One substance accounts for almost all of drug convictions in Hawaii. Of those 71 drug cases, 63 were related to methamphetamine.
Next: From Hawaii to another extreme corner of the country
- Number of drug convictions: 102
- Percentage of total convictions: 50.5%
For the time frame included in the United States Sentencing Commission data, Maine had 202 federal cases with more than half of those related to drugs. What might be somewhat surprising is the substance that was most often the focal point of those cases. Crack was the substance in question in 47 of those drug cases.
Next: The winner (or loser?) by a long shot
1. West Virginia
- Number of drug convictions: 295
- Percentage of total convictions: 56%
The sentencing statistics from West Virginia don’t lie. You’re very likely to be busted on a drug charge there, and the chances are it’s one drug in particular. Heroin was far and away the No. 1 drug involved in federal cases (151).
Editor’s note: We used data from the United States Sentencing Commission from the fiscal year ending in September 2016 as a basis. We chose to use the percentage (rather than the number) of drug convictions per state because high-population states, such as California, Florida, New York, and Texas, are expected to have more drug convictions than their less populous counterparts. Indeed, those four states had thousands of drug cases but at a rate less than the states appearing on this list.
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