Report: Federal Marijuana Arrest Data Overstates Problem by 70 Percent

Since marijuana became lawful in California for medicinal purposes, small-scale possession has been largely decriminalized in most local communities. This is especially true now that marijuana has legalized recreational use of the drug as of this year with Prop. 64. However, cannabis possession remains unlawful as far as federal law is concerned and California’s new law doesn’t legalize every cannabis crime. As Orange County marijuana criminal defense attorneys know, reported arrests are still falling fast. The Orange County Register indicated that from 2016 to 2017, those in California facing jail or prison, serious fines and permanent criminal records dropped by nearly 8,000, according to information from the California Attorney General’s Office. However, a recent report printed by the Philadelphia Inquirer (republished by, marijuana arrests may be inflated in Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics. Orange County marijuana criminal defense attorneys

Let’s note firstly that Pennsylvania legalized medicinal marijuana in April 2016, and the drug is only available for those suffering from certain medical conditions. Unlike California, and numerous other states, it is not available for recreational sale, possession or use. Even with medicinal use being legal, the Philadelphia area has reported that marijuana arrests in the area have markedly increased in recent years. And yet, the spike being reported by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program. The analysis reveals marijuana arrests as reflected in federal data may be inflated by as much as 70 percent.

Why the disparity? As our Orange County marijuana criminal defense attorneys understand it, it’s a result of local police agencies reporting every single situation in which people are caught with pot in – even if they aren’t ultimately arrested for that offense.

Both the police agencies and the FBI say there is nothing wrong with this, as it helps produce information that is both reliable and useful for administrators and managers in the law enforcement field. However, groups like the Women’s Law Project in Philadelphia are highly critical of this practice, saying fails to properly reflect accurate public data. This could lead to allocation of law enforcement resources where they may not be necessary.

Research revealed two-third of local police agencies were reporting marijuana arrests for every stop in which the drug was found, even if the individuals stopped weren’t ultimately arrested. So for instance, in four counties that had reportedly made 5,4000 marijuana arrests last year, court records revealed only 3,200 of those defendants actually faced criminal charges. More often than not, those individuals who weren’t charged with any crime were still issued a citation for a lesser offense, such as disorderly conduct. Philadelphia allows police in that jurisdiction to issue a $25 civil citation for minor marijuana possession.

Police chiefs say that while this option – in lieu of marijuana arrests – aligns with the fact that marijuana is now a socially-acceptable drug. The FBI backed this practice, saying local agencies had “wide latitude” with regard to how such offenses could be reported.

However, this does mean that we don’t have an accurate count – based on FBI data – of how many marijuana arrests there actually are in a given area. Orange County marijuana criminal defense attorneys believe this matters when we’re looking at crime statistics that appear to show a serious problem of widespread criminal cannabis possession that may not in fact be criminal. Even leading criminologists called the practice “terribly misleading,” given that arrests are not only legally much different than a civil citation, they are perceived much differently than the public as well.

The criminologist noted another motivation police might have for the skewed reporting: Appearing more aggressive than they are. For example, if you have scores of drug arrests, it can appear to the public that a police agency is out tackling a serious problem on our streets – particularly when we know that marijuana is largely decriminalized in many jurisdictions so the only people being “arrested” are those committing more serious marijuana crimes. But it turns out that may not actually be true, and police agencies recognize that a slew of arrests for “disorderly conduct” just doesn’t carry the same weight.

In one town, while some 229 “marijuana arrests” were reported, the reality was only 24 of those defendants faced misdemeanor marijuana charges.

Those who are facing criminal marijuana charges should discuss their legal options with an experienced Orange County marijuana criminal defense attorney. Meanwhile agencies whose statistics appeared skewed should commit to accurately reporting each offense for precisely what it is.

The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, collectives, patients and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 949-375-4734.

Additional Resources:

Study: Marijuana arrests overstated to FBI by nearly 70 percent, Oct. 11, 2018, By Craig R. McCoy, The Philadelphia Inquirer

More Blog Entries:

Marijuana Reclassification: Feds Seek Public Comment for WHO Report, Oct. 8, 2018, Orange County Marijuana Criminal Defense Attorney Blog

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