A frequent claim made by opponents of marijuana policy reform is that hardly anybody is ever really arrested for low-level marijuana offenses. But like most prohibitionist arguments, that’s a lie.
In California, where marijuana possession was “decriminalized” in 1976 and medical marijuana legalized 20 years later, the state Department of Justice reports that law enforcement conducted a record 78,492 marijuana arrests in 2008. About 80% of these (61,366) were for mere possession – not sale or cultivation.
The California-based Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ) took a long look at trends for marijuana arrests in the state and revealed some disturbing information. In its recent report to the California Legislature, CJCJ showed that the arrest rate for marijuana possession has skyrocketed in California – up 127% – between 1990 and 2008. But during the same period, arrests for all other offenses in California decreased by 40% – including other drug possession, which sank by nearly 30%. The arrest rate for marijuana sales and manufacturing even decreased 21% during this period.
You can’t help but conclude from this data that California’s police agencies have developed an almost singular focus on marijuana possession as their top law enforcement priority. This is shocking, not only because most Californians now say they want marijuana legal, but because it’s a dangerous and irresponsible use of limited public safety resources.
Last year, while California’s law enforcement officers were rounding up a record number of marijuana consumers, almost 60,000 reported violent crimes never resulted in an arrest.* Thanks to decriminalization in California, these arrests usually don’t result in jail or lengthy detainment, but they do take real police time and other criminal justice resources.
Anyone unfortunate enough to have been a victim of an unsolved crime should support repealing marijuana prohibition and freeing up police to focus on public safety rather than consensual adult activity that’s no more harmful than drinking beer or wine.
*Source: FBI, Crime in the U.S., 2008
by F. Aaron Smith
November 3, 2009