Most Comprehensive Analysis Of US Marijuana Arrest Data To Date

March 11, 2005 - Washington, DC, USA

Washington, DC: US marijuana policies, which rely primarily on criminal penalties and law enforcement, are wholly ineffective at controlling the use and sale of marijuana, concludes a comprehensive report issued today by the NORML Foundation. The report, entitled "Crimes of Indiscretion: Marijuana Arrests in the United States," includes a detailed examination of the fiscal costs associated with the enforcement of marijuana laws at the state and county level, as well as a complete demographic analysis of which Americans are most likely to be arrested for violating marijuana laws.

Among the reports' findings:

* The enforcement of state and local marijuana laws annually costs US taxpayers an estimated $7.6 billion, approximately $10,400 per arrest. Of this total, annual police costs are $3.7 billion, judicial/legal costs are $853 million, and correctional costs are $3.1 billion. In both California and New York, state fiscal costs dedicated to marijuana law enforcement annually total over $1 billion.

* Marijuana possession and sales arrests disproportionately impact black adults. African Americans are among the demographic groups most adversely impacted by marijuana law enforcement. While adult African Americans account for only 8.8% of the US population and 11.9% of annual marijuana users, they comprise 23% of all marijuana possession arrests in the United States.

* Marijuana possession and sales arrests disproportionately impact younger Americans. One out of every four marijuana possession arrests in the United States involves a person age 18 or younger. Seventy-four percent of all US marijuana possession arrests are for people under the age of 30. Marijuana users who are white, over 30 years old, and/or female are disproportionately unaffected by marijuana possession arrests.

* Over one million US teenagers sell marijuana. The enforcement of state and local marijuana laws has neither reduced adolescent demand for marijuana, nor has it reduced the number of teens supplying marijuana to other adolescents on the black market.

* Marijuana prohibition fails to produce intended results. Total US marijuana arrests increased 165% during the 1990s, from 287,850 in 1991 to 755,000 in 2003. However, these increased arrest rates have not been associated with a reduction in marijuana use, reduced marijuana availability, a reduction in the number of new marijuana users, reduced treatment admissions, reduced emergency room mentions of marijuana, any reduction in marijuana potency, or any increases in the price of marijuana.

NORML Executive Director Allen St. Pierre called the report an official "indictment" of US marijuana policy, noting that present US marijuana strategies resoundingly fail when measured against the federal government's handpicked drug use and public health indicators.

"Public policies are measured by their ability to produce intended results," St. Pierre said. "The stated goal of criminal marijuana prohibition is to deter marijuana use and promote public health. As the data show, the current prohibition-oriented policy clearly does neither. Rather, the enforcement of state and local marijuana laws unnecessarily costs American taxpayers billions of dollars annually, disproportionately impacts the lives of young people and African Americans, and encourages approximately one million teenagers to become entrepreneurs in the criminal drug trade."

The report and analysis lists states and counties by rank for categories such as for marijuana possession and sales arrests; and total arrests versus per capita arrest rates. For example:

Top five states for all marijuana arrests:
1) California (60,111 marijuana arrests)
2) New York (57,504 marijuana arrests)
3) Texas (51,563 marijuana arrests)
4) Illinois (41,447 marijuana arrests)
5) Georgia (23,977 marijuana arrests)

Top five states for marijuana arrests per capita (National Average = 239 marijuana arrests/per 100,000 citizens):
1) Nebraska (458 marijuana arrests per 100,000)
2) Louisiana (398 marijuana arrests per 100,000)
3) Wyoming (386 marijuana arrests per 100,000)
4) Kentucky (364 marijuana arrests per 100,000)
5) Illinois (359 marijuana arrests per 100,000)

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