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Crimes of Indescretion Report Released
By David F. Duncan, DrPH, FAAHB

Comprehensive Analysis Of US Marijuana Arrest Data Shows Marijuana Arrests to be a Failure

More than three-quarters of a million Americans are arrested annually for possession, sales, or cultivation of marijuana -- 239 marijuana arrests per 100,000 citizens. Current US marijuana policies, founded on these arrests and subsequent criminal penalties, are completely ineffective at controlling the sale and use of marijuana, according to a comprehensive new report. The report from the NORML Foundation, entitled Crimes of Indiscretion: Marijuana Arrests in the United States, was funding through a grant from The Threshold Foundation. It includes a detailed examination of the costs associated with the enforcement of marijuana laws at state and county levels, as well as a complete demographic analysis of which Americans are most likely to be arrested for violating marijuana laws.
Among the reportĀ¹s findings:

  • The enforcement of state and local marijuana laws annually costs US taxpayers an estimated $7.6 billion -- approximately $10,400 per arrest.  Of this total, annual police costs are $3.7 billion, judicial/legal costs are $853 million, and correctional costs are $3.1 billion.
  • Marijuana possession and sales arrests disproportionately impact African-American adults.  African-Americans adults account for only 8.8% of the US population and 11.9% of annual marijuana users, but they comprise 23% of all marijuana possession arrests in the United States.
  • Marijuana possession and sales arrests disproportionately impact younger Americans.  One out of every four marijuana possession arrests in the United States involves a person age 18 or younger.
  • Seventy-four percent of all US marijuana possession arrests are for people under the age of 30. 
  • Marijuana users who are white, over 30 years old, and/or female are disproportionately unaffected by marijuana possession arrests.
  • Over one million US teenagers sell marijuana.  The enforcement of state and local marijuana laws has neither reduced adolescent  demand for marijuana, nor has it reduced the number of teens supplying marijuana to other adolescents on the black market.

Marijuana prohibition has failed to produce its intended results. Total US marijuana arrests increased 165% since the 1990s -- from 287,850 in 1991 to 755,000 in 2003.  However, these increased arrest rates have not been associated with a reduction in marijuana use, reduced marijuana availability, a reduction in the number of new marijuana users, reduced treatment admissions, reduced emergency room mentions of marijuana, any reduction in marijuana potency, or any increases in the price of marijuana.

NORML Executive Director Allen St. Pierre called the report an official "indictment" of US marijuana policy, noting that present US marijuana strategies resoundingly fail when measured against the federal government's own handpicked drug use and public health indicators.
"Public policies are measured by their ability to produce intended results," St. Pierre said.  "The stated goal of criminal marijuana prohibition is to deter marijuana use and promote public health.  As the data show, the current prohibition-oriented policy clearly does neither. Rather, the enforcement of state and local marijuana laws unnecessarily costs American taxpayers billions of dollars annually, disproportionately impacts the lives of young people and African Americans, and encourages approximately one million teenagers to become entrepreneurs in the criminal drug trade."
The entire report is available online from the NORML website:

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