Drug Policy

What Do Pot Arrests Accomplish?

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In the January 2008 issue of Reason, I compared trends in marijuana arrests to trends in marijuana use and concluded that "there is no clear relationship between the number of arrests and the number of pot smokers." That is, it did not seem to be the case that a) increases in use were driving up arrests or b) increases in arrests were driving down use. In the November issue of The Bulletin of Cannabis Reform, Jon Gettman takes a more detailed and sophisticated look at the numbers and reaches much the same conclusion:

The most important characteristic of marijuana arrests in the United States is that they have been steadily increasing over the last 20 years with little or no impact on the level of marijuana use in this country….Marijuana arrests have nearly doubled from 1991 to 2008, increasing by 150% during the 1990s and increasing steadily in recent years, producing an annualized change of 6.56% per year during this period. Overall, levels of marijuana use in the United States have remained fundamentally unchanged during this period.

The implication is that the risk of arrest has gone up. By my calculation, comparing annual arrests to annual users, it has roughly doubled. But Gettman argues that "the overall marijuana arrest rate of between 3% and 6% of users is not enough to represent a meaningful deterrent." He also notes that the risk is not evenly distributed:

While the marijuana-use rate for African-Americans is only about 25% greater than for whites, the marijuana possession arrest rate for blacks is three times greater. This is not a regional disparity, but is seen in every state and most counties.

Looking across jurisdictions, Getmann finds little evidence that relatively lenient treatment of pot smokers is associated with higher levels of use or that relatively harsh treatment is associated will lower levels of use. He estimates that "marijuana arrests cost state and local governments $10.3 billion in 2006."

The whole report is here (PDF). And in case that does not satisfy your appetite for marijuana arrest numbers, the Marijuana Policy Almanac, which includes "state rankings and individual reports for all 50 states plus the District of Columbia," is here.

I considered the latest marijuana arrest figures in September.

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  1. Nebraska, here we come.

  2. What do they acomplish? They increase government control over people’s lives. Are they supposed to do anything else? Not that I know of.

    1. Man, you took the words right out of my mind!

  3. There’s lots of profit in it for lots of people. Probation companies, drug testing companies, vendors which service jails and prisons, industries which profit from cheap prison labor, cops, prosecutors, etc etc.

    1. Profit and power. Think of how much power MJ illegality gives the cops, prosecutors, etc.

    2. Don’t forget the rehab industry. Every reefer arrest is a customer who doesn’t cause problems and usually doesn’t require any more work than taking attendance.

    3. Ding-ding-ding!! We have a winner!

  4. I think you are missing the whole point. We want to keep it illegal so there is an actual danger to smoking marijuana from being arrested.

    It’s illegal so it’s dangerous and therefore must be illegal!

    1. mmm thats some tasty circular logic

      1. This isn’t excel. Circular logic is par for the course.

  5. Marijuana arrests prevent 7.92% of imminent instances of Dave Matthews-related vomiting.

  6. What Do Pot Arrests Accomplish?

    Well for one they make criminals out of more and more people.

    They also help pad the stats to make it look like the police are accomplishing something.

    Also justifies a larger budget for the cops and the anti-drug program

    Did I miss anything?

  7. It also gives a pre-text to harass people that otherwise wouldn’t exist.

    1. Young people and minorities mostly.

      54 year old J sub D never gets fucked with by the police. The 19 year old version did.

  8. Was this article a coincidence? Tim Lincecum, the best pitcher in major league baseball (arguably, anyway) just got busted for … wait for it … 3.3 grame of pot in his car.

    3.3 grams. That’s reported here …http://www.columbian.com/article/20091105/NEWS02/711069987 … 3.3 grams. That’s not a lot of pot, folks.

    3.3 grams of marijuana has been taken off the street. I feel safer already.

    1. Another example of the killer weed ruining a young man’s potential. He could have been a star.

  9. What Do Pot Arrests Accomplish?

    They don’t call it the criminal industrial complex for nothing:

    Lzay cops, lazier county attorney, fucked up judges, probation officers, piss test companies, utility belt companies, special needs cars, handcuff manufacturers, prison staff (janitors, wardens, officers, educations folks, etc.), the people that makes lights for cop cars, private jail companies,

  10. While the marijuana-use rate for African-Americans is only about 25% greater than for whites, the marijuana possession arrest rate for blacks is three times greater. This is not a regional disparity, but is seen in every state and most counties.

    This has been refuted many times. African-Americans proportionally commit more crimes in general, which gets them arrested more often, which gets them searched which gets them charge with possession along with whatever they originally got in trouble for. In addition, possession is the favored plea bargain charge that people caught for more serious crimes plead to. That is the reason the disparity is uniform across the country.

    I think pot should be legalized but this kind of stuff really ticks me off. Watching a bunch of white suburban stoners trying to foster their own indulgences by crying about racism against African-Americans is really nauseating.

    1. So, Shannon, what bothers you about the WOD is the hypocrisy of white stoners?

  11. As much as I hate to say anything positive about Ohio, it’s has the best marijuana laws in the US.

  12. it has

  13. Why done we either legalize it, or just execute all users and be done with it, one or the other but going on like this wastes money and accomplishes nothing.

  14. As I have said and others have alluded to – the drug war is working exactly as it is intended to work. It is serving the purpose it is supposed to serve. The drug war itself is a separate economy with many vested interests who depend on this perpetual “war” to keep their pockets lined. Imagine the many hundreds of thousands of people who would have to find productive work in order make a living should we do anything sane like end the idiocy of substance prohibition.

  15. As I have said and others have alluded to – the drug war is working exactly as it is intended to work. It is serving the purpose it is supposed to serve.

    Bingo. At some point, the continued acceptance of unintended consequences, and the failure to achieve the announced goals, has to mean that the unintended consequences are the real goal.

    1. Now there’s a conspiracy !!!

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