A report released today by Dr. Jon Gettman shows that despite increasing support for ending marijuana prohibition, arrests for possession are actually increasing in some states. The report and other information can be found on Dr. Gettman’s new site, RegulatingCannabis.com.
From 2008 to 2012, seventeen state-level jurisdictions experienced an average annual increase in marijuana arrests, the report found. South Carolina (11.6 percent) and the District of Columbia (7.7 percent) experienced the highest overall percentage increase in arrests during this time period. By contrast, annual marijuana arrests fell nationwide by an average of 3.3 percent from 2008 to 2012.
Hopefully this will change as more states consider reforming their marijuana laws. The District of Columbia in particular should begin to see significant declines in marijuana arrests since a law removing criminal penalties for possession of up to one ounce went into effect on July 17.
Marijuana arrests continued at near record levels in 2012, and the vast majority of them were for simple possession. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s annual Uniform Crime Report, an estimated 749,824 arrests were made nationwide for marijuana, more than 87% of which were for possession. This is a slight decrease from 2011. Marijuana arrests accounted for nearly half of all drug arrests last year.
The report also noted that 59.9% of rapes, 53.2% of all violent crimes, and 81% of property crimes reported in 2012 were unsolved or did not result in arrest.
These results show that one person is arrested for marijuana possession every 48 seconds on average in the United States. A Pew Research Poll released in April reported that a majority of Americans think marijuana should be taxed and regulated in a manner similar to alcohol.
In a nutshell, we continue to waste billions of dollars arresting and prosecuting people for using a substance that is safer than alcohol, which most Americans think should be legal, and allow huge numbers of violent attacks and property crimes to go unanswered and unpunished. And we do this year after year. The only bright side is that arrest numbers, while still unacceptably high, appear to be dropping.
The more people you know who use marijuana, the harder it becomes to say that they should be arrested for possessing it. After all, the vast majority of marijuana users are productive and otherwise law-abiding members of society. This fact has become increasingly evident as more and more people come out of the “cannabis closet” and become open about their experiences with the substance.
Is it possible that Boehner, who has consistently opposed marijuana policy reform, will start to come around now that he has a convicted marijuana user for a son-in-law? Does he think Lakhan is better off with an arrest record or that Lakhan deserves to be arrested again for using marijuana? Would he care about how it affects his daughter? Only time will tell.
Have you ever wondered how many hours law enforcement officers waste on arresting and processing people for low-level misdemeanor marijuana possession? The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) has the answer, and it’s in the seven digits.
The DPA reviewed low-level misdemeanor marijuana possession arrests carried out by the New York Police Department (NYPD) during Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s tenure and found that NYPD used approximately 1,000,000 hours of police officer time to make 440,000 marijuana possession arrests over 11 years. That’s 1,000,000 hours that could have been spent investigating and solving serious, violent crimes. And that is just one city.
Additionally, the report, which was prepared by professor of sociology at Queens College Dr. Harry Levine, a recognized expert on marijuana possession arrests, estimates that the people arrested by NYPD for marijuana possession have spent 5,000,000 hours in police custody over the last decade.
Today, the City Council of Chicago voted 43-3 to amend the city’s code to direct police officers to cite, rather than arrest, individuals in possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana. Under the proposal, which has the support of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, police could still arrest those who cannot produce identification or present a threat to public safety. Those cited would face fines of $200 to $500 dollars and up to 10 hours of community service; however, there would be no risk of jail time.
Passage of the measure means that adults in possession of small amounts of marijuana will no longer be arrested or saddled with criminal records that can make it harder to obtain employment, housing, and student loans. The ordinance will also allow law enforcement to focus on more serious crimes, like the city’s soaring murder rate, while conserving limited police resources. Violent crime has become a serious concern in Chicago, with homicides up 38% over the last year.
Chicago now joins over 90 other localities in Illinois and 15 other states across the nation in removing criminal penalties for low-level marijuana possession. Since enacting laws replacing arrest and jail with fines for such violations, there has been no appreciable increase in marijuana use in those areas, either among adults or young people. The move follows a recent trend in marijuana reforms, including a similar penalty reform in Rhode Island and medical marijuana legislation in Connecticut this May and June. Legislative chambers in New York, New Hampshire, and New Jersey also approved marijuana policy reforms in recent weeks. This trend reflects growing public consensus that harsh marijuana laws are ineffective, and scarce law enforcement resources should not be used to arrest adults for using a substance safer than alcohol.
If only President Obama’s former colleagues, like his good friend the Mayor of Chicago, could convince him that people are ready for real marijuana policy change, and that we need it more than ever.