Marijuana Arrests Fall in 2015, Still Higher Than for Violent Crimes

The failed war on drugs created the characterization of marijuana as this dangerous, addictive gateway to harder substances. This assertion has largely been debunked. And yet, the drug remains a Schedule I narcotic and people continue to face arrest and prosecution – even serious prison time – for manufacturing, buying, selling and possessing the drug, even though no violent crime has been committed. police car

Some of the latest data to have emerged in recent weeks on marijuana arrests gives us a little hope, but also illustrates how much farther we have to go on this issue.

The first analysis was conducted by The Washington Post after receiving the latest FBI unified crime statistics from 2015. Reporters learned that the number of marijuana possession arrests last year – 575,000 – was the lowest its been since 1996. It also shows us a 7 percent year-over-year drop, and an approximately 35 percent dip since 2007, when pot possession arrests were at their peak of 800,000. Now, this would suggest that police are overall spending less time to marijuana enforcement, particularly with regard to other drugs. But then, we consider a joint report by the Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union that shows the 575,000 marijuana arrests in 2015 for low-level personal use last year numbered 13.6 percent more than the 506,000 arrests made for all violent crimes that same year – including for murder, rape and serious assaults. 

The joint report, titled, “Every 25 Seconds: The Human Toll of Criminalizing Drug Use in the United States,” highlights the disparate treatment black Americans receive in the criminal justice system. This includes the disproportionate number who are sent to jail when they are unable to cover the cost of those court-imposed fines. They are also disproportionately stopped in traffic and even while riding bicycles.

The joint report also highlights the fact that our justice system coerces guilty pleas, even from innocent people. In 2009, more than 99 percent of those convicted for drug possession in the 75 biggest counties in the country pleaded guilty. Data obtained from Florida and Alabama shows that at least in two states, most drug possession defendants were poor enough to qualify for court-appointed counsel and yet, the average bail amount for these offenses was $39,900. For lower income defendants, bail that’s this high means they will stay in jail until their case is resolved. That creates a significant incentive to get it over with. This is especially true when prosecutors offer probation, relatively short sentences or “time served” in exchange for a guilty plea – something that starts to look very attractive when the alternative is to stay in jail to fight a conviction. Then you also take into consideration the so-called “trial penalty.” That is, the plea deal may involve a short stint behind bars, while a conviction upon trial may result in decades behind bars.

So even as marijuana arrests for possession are the lowest they have been in years, it still works out to an arrest every single minute.

A widely-cited report in 2013 by the ACLU revealed that taxpayers paid $3.6 billion in marijuana possession enforcement every year. The study also indicated that while white Americans and black Americans use the drug at the same rates, black users were four times more likely to be arrested.

If you have been arrested, there are a myriad of pre-trial defenses that should be explored to minimize your risk of conviction.

The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, collectives, patients and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 714-937-2050.

Additional Resources:

Marijuana arrests fall to lowest level since 1996, Sept. 26, 2016, By Christopher Ingraham, The Washington Post

More Blog Entries:

Report: California Arrested 500k People in 10 Years for Marijuana, Sept. 5, 2016, Los Angeles Marijuana Arrest Lawyer Blog