Denver: Marijuana Arrests Increase Despite Voter-Approved Initiative Abolishing City’s Pot Penalties

Denver, CO:  Marijuana arrests in Denver increased more than 10 percent from 2005 to 2006, despite the recent passage of a municipal ordinance calling on police to cease penalizing adults who possess small amounts of pot.
Non-felony pot arrests rose from fewer than 2,200 in 2005 ­- when 54 percent of Denver voters approved I-100, a citywide ordinance abolishing civil and criminal penalties for the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana by citizens age 21 and older -­ to approximately 2,500 in 2006.

“The Denver Police Department has done the exact opposite of what the voters demanded and has gone out of its way to arrest even more adults than ever before,” said SAFER (Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation) Director Mason Tvert, who coordinated the I-100 initiative. “Perhaps even more disturbing is the lack of interest among Denver’s elected officials ­- particularly our mayor ­- in supporting the people who elected them.”

Similar voter-approved efforts to ‘deprioritize’ marijuana law enforcement in several cities have led to a decrease in marijuana possession arrests – most notably in Seattle.

Among those arrested by Denver police on minor pot violations, 32 percent were African Americans. According to census data, African-Americans comprise only 11 percent of Denver’s population.

Nationally, a 2005 NORML Foundation study reported that although African-American adults account for fewer than 12 percent of all marijuana users, they comprise 23 percent of those arrested annually on pot possession charges.  A previous review of marijuana arrest data by NORML in 2000 found that African-Americans are busted for marijuana possession at rates twice those of whites in 64 percent of US counties.

Most recently, a 2007 study by the National Development Research Institute reported that 85 percent of the defendants arrested in New York City for the crime of possessing marijuana in the fifth degree were either African-American or Hispanic.

For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director, at (202) 483-5500, or visit: