Washington, DC: A report released this week by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) purporting to “set the record straight” regarding the number of inmates incarcerated for marijuana-related offenses relies almost entirely on “unpublished estimates” from a 1997 Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) survey.
The report, entitled “Who’s Really in Prison for Marijuana,” cites “unpublished BJS estimates” on six occasions to imply that few, if any, marijuana offenders are behind bars. However, a similar, published 1997 BJS paper referred to by the ONDCP in its report states that 13 percent of state drug offenders and 19 percent of federal drug offenders are incarcerated for marijuana offenses. A 1999 NORML report, based on the 1997 BJS data, estimated that one in seven drug prisoners (or 39,188 total inmates, not including those held in county jails) were incarcerated for marijuana offenses.
The ONDCP report did not address FBI data indicating that annual arrests for marijuana offenses have more than doubled in the past decade, peaking at a record high 755,000 arrests in 2003, at the same time that overall criminal arrests have declined. Of those arrested for marijuana offenses, nearly 90 percent are charged with minor possession only, not cultivation or sale. According to a recent analysis of marijuana arrest data by the NORML Foundation, the enforcement of state and local marijuana laws annually costs US taxpayers an estimated $7.6 billion.
Commenting on the Drug Czar’s report, NORML Executive Director Allen St. Pierre said: “Police have arrested over seven million Americans for marijuana violations since 1990, and now average more than 700,000 arrests per year – primarily for marijuana possession. While not all of those individuals arrested are eventually sentenced to long prison terms, the fact remains that the repercussions of a marijuana arrest alone are significant – including: probation and mandatory drug testing; a criminal record; loss of driving privileges; loss of federal college aid; asset forfeiture; revocation of professional driver’s license; loss of certain welfare benefits such as food stamps; removal from public housing; loss of child custody; and loss of employment. In other words, whether or not marijuana offenders ultimately serve time in jail, the fact is that hundreds of thousands of otherwise law-abiding citizens are having their lives needlessly destroyed each year for nothing more than smoking marijuana.”
For more information, please contact either Allen St. Pierre or Paul Armentano of NORML at (202) 483-5500. Full text of NORML’s 2005 marijuana arrest report, “Crimes of Indiscretion: Marijuana Arrests in the United States,” is available online at: