Washington, DC: Police arrested a record 872,721 persons for marijuana violations in 2007, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's annual Uniform Crime Report, released today. This is the largest total number of annual arrests for cannabis ever recorded by the FBI.
Cannabis arrests now comprise nearly 47.5 percent of all drug arrests in the United States.
"These numbers belie the myth that police do not target and arrest minor cannabis offenders," said NORML Executive Director Allen St. Pierre, who noted that at current rates, a cannabis consumer is arrested every 37 seconds in America. "This effort is a tremendous waste of criminal justice resources that diverts law enforcement personnel away from focusing on serious and violent crime, including the war on terrorism."
Of those charged with marijuana violations, approximately 89 percent, 775,138 Americans were charged with possession only. The remaining 97,583 individuals were charged with "sale/manufacture," a category that includes all cultivation offenses, even those where the marijuana was being grown for personal or medical use. Nearly three in four of those arrested are under age 30.
"Present policies have done little if anything to decrease marijuana's availability or dissuade youth from trying it," St. Pierre said, noting young people in the U.S. now frequently report that they have easier access to pot than alcohol or tobacco.
"Two other major points standout from today’s record marijuana arrests: Overall, there has been a dramatic 195 percent increase in marijuana arrests in the last 15 years -- yet the public's access to pot remains largely unfettered and the self-reported use of cannabis remains largely unchanged. Second, America’s Midwest is decidedly the hotbed for cannabis arrests with over 60 percent of all cannabis-related arrests. The region of America with the least amount of cannabis arrests is the West with 29 percent. This latter result is arguably a testament to the passage of various state and local decriminalization efforts over the past several years."
"Of further note, this year the Midwest saw a 13.3% increase in cannabis sales/cultivation-related arrests, while the West saw a 14% increase in possession-related cannabis arrests."
The total number of marijuana arrests in the U.S. for 2007 far exceeded the total number of arrests in the U.S. for all violent crimes combined, including murder, manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault.
Annual marijuana arrests have nearly tripled since the early 1990s.
"Arresting hundreds of thousands of Americans who smoke marijuana responsibly needlessly destroys the lives of otherwise law abiding citizens," St. Pierre said, adding that nearly 9 million Americans have been arrested on marijuana charges in the past ten years. During this same time, arrests for cocaine and heroin have declined sharply, implying that increased enforcement of marijuana laws is being achieved at the expense of enforcing laws against the possession and trafficking of more dangerous drugs.In fact, October 10, 2008 will mark the arrest of the 20 millionth cannabis consumer arrested under cannabis prohibition, circa 1937.
St. Pierre concluded: "Enforcing marijuana prohibition costs taxpayers between $10 billion and $12 billion annually and has led to the arrest of nearly 20 million Americans. Nevertheless, nearly 100 million Americans acknowledge having used marijuana during their lives. It makes no sense to continue to treat nearly half of all Americans as criminals for their use of a substance that poses far fewer health risks than alcohol or tobacco. A better and more sensible solution would be to tax and regulate cannabis in a manner similar to alcohol and tobacco."
For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director, at (202) 483-5500. For a comprehensive breakdown and analysis of US cannabis arrests, please see NORML's report: "Crimes of Indiscretion: Marijuana Arrests in the United States". Also, "What If We Arrested 20 Million Americans and No One Noticed" is a featured plenary session at the upcoming 37th Annual NORML National Conference in Berkeley, CA.