Yet governments at all levels continue to wage a costly, pointless, and ferocious war against peaceful marijuana users.
In early November the FBI released its annual Uniform Crime Report, which gives the best look at marijuana arrests and related statistics. It covers the latest year for which figures are available, 2013.
Among the findings:
- The good news: arrest numbers are down, slightly. In 2013, there were 693,481 arrests for marijuana charges. In 2012, there were 749,825. However, despite years of growing support for re-legalization, there were actually fewer arrests back in 1998 (682,885).
- As always, the vast majority of these arrests — a whopping 88% — were for simple possession.
- The remaining 12% of arrests were for “sale/manufacture,” a broad category that includes all cultivation offenses — even those where the marijuana was being grown for personal or medical use.
- Marijuana arrests make up 40.6% of all drug arrests, making it clear that the War on Drugs is, in reality, largely a War on Marijuana Possession.
- Nationwide, police make an average of one arrest for marijuana possession every minute.
- Nationwide, 51.9% of violent crimes and over 80% of property crimes went unsolved or did not result in arrest. Is there a connection?
- Arrests for mere possession of marijuana cost, at a minimum, roughly half a billion dollars, says NORML, using an ACLU estimate of cost-per-arrest ($750). Other estimates range to several billion dollars.
- The effects of an arrest can be devastating, notes Paul Armentano of NORML:
“Probation and mandatory drug testing; loss of employment; loss of child custody; removal from subsidized housing; asset forfeiture; loss of student aid; loss of voting privileges; loss of adoption rights…” and of course, for some, time behind bars.
Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, summed it up nicely:
“Arresting even one adult for using a substance that is objectively less harmful than alcohol is inexcusable.
“Law enforcement officials should be spending their time and resources addressing serious crimes, not arresting and prosecuting adults for using marijuana. Every year, these statistics show hundreds of thousands of marijuana-related arrests are taking place and countless violent crimes are going unsolved. We have to wonder how many of those crimes could be solved — or prevented — if police weren’t wasting their time enforcing failed marijuana prohibition laws.”