Five years ago, law enforcement in Orange County busted nearly 7,500 people for marijuana misdemeanors. That meant thousands of non-violent offenders were walking away with criminal records that not only impacted their immediate freedom and finances, it impeded their ability to land jobs and, in some cases, housing.
Last year, the total number of marijuana-related misdemeanors in the county? 548. That’s a dramatic decrease of an astonishing 93 percent.
Much of this is thanks to a 2010 law that rendered possession of an ounce or less of the drug a civil infraction. That’s on the same level as jaywalking. Orange County isn’t unique in this regard. In fact, the Orange County Register reports that statewide, misdemeanor marijuana arrests tumbled 90 percent from 2008 to 2014.
Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens was quoted by the newspaper as saying that when possession of marijuana was slashed from a felony to a a misdemeanor and then down to a civil infraction, California essentially decriminalized it.
Of course, trafficking marijuana is still a felony, and dealers face harsh penalties that could include decades in prison. L.A. marijuana arrest lawyers know it’s important to keep this in mind if you’re stopped by police because it’s not always a minor matter. But generally, as long as the drug isn’t clearly packaged and labeled for illegal sales, people caught with pot are usually looking at a pesky fine.
Felony marijuana arrests have fallen too, though not nearly as dramatically. Officials in Orange County report arrests for those more serious offenses fell by nearly a third between 2008 and 2014, with the most recent statistics indicating there 570 felony marijuana arrests for the whole year. Zooming out at statewide figures, it’s pretty much the same story. Numbers were down 22 percent during that time frame, down to 13,300 for the entire state.
Some in law enforcement are highly critical of this. Hutchens is one of those who argue legalization is a horrible idea that opens the door for teenage use and results in unsafe roads due to more people driving under the influence. She noted research that the brain continues to develop until age 26, and argued marijuana can be addictive. She worries about the kind of message we are sending to youth if we are allowing access to something that “dumbs our kids down and demotivates them.”
A recent analysis by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area group indicated that marijuana-related traffic deaths in Colorado (the first state to approve legalized pot for recreational use) climbed 32 percent the year after legalization of the drug. (Still, it’s worth noting those figures use the term “related” loosely; It usually indicates one or more drivers involved in fatal accidents had the drug in their system. There is little indication that the driver was even impaired, let alone that the drug was a primary cause of the crash.)
Still, the Citizens Against Legalization Marijuana is prepared to put up a major fight on the ballot initiative that will be before state voters in November.
But supporters of legalization counter that as of right now, any teenager can easily purchase the drug on the black market. By legalizing marijuana, we choke out the black market and impose state oversight and restrictions that make it tougher for children to gain access. In fact, there is research to suggest that loosening marijuana prohibition results in a sizable drop in pot use among teens.
O.C. Sheriff on plunge in marijuana-related arrests: ‘It’s essentially decriminalized already’, Jan. 25, 2016, By Teri Sforza, The Orange County Register
More Blog Entries:
California to Earn Huge Income from Taxes Should Legalized Marijuana Pass, Jan. 18, 2016, Los Angeles Marijuana Lawyer Blog