Washington, DC: Police arrested a record 829,625 persons for marijuana violations in 2006, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s annual Uniform Crime Report, released today. This is the largest total number of annual arrests for pot ever recorded by the FBI. Marijuana arrests now comprise nearly 44 percent of all drug arrests in the United States.
“These numbers belie the myth that police do not target and arrest minor marijuana offenders,” said NORML Executive Director Allen St. Pierre, who noted that at current rates, a marijuana smoker is arrested every 38 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, 738,915 Americans were charged with possession only. The remaining 90,710 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. In past years, roughly 30 percent of those arrested were age 19 or younger.
“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 188 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 marijuana-related arrests with 57 percent of all marijuana-related arrests. The region of America with the least amount of marijuana-related arrests is the West with 30 percent. This latter result is arguably a testament to the passage of various state and local decriminalization efforts over the past several years.”
The total number of marijuana arrests in the U.S. for 2006 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 over 8 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.
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, some 94 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 no greater – and arguably 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 marijuana arrests, please see NORML’s report: “Crimes of Indiscretion: Marijuana Arrests in the United States“.