Thursday, November 5, 2009

Marijuana Arrests Have No Impact On Usage; Washington State Wastes $170 Million A Year

The most extensive study yet undertaken on U.S. marijuana arrests and penalties, released today, finds no relationship between marijuana arrest and use rates. The report further finds that current penalty structures act as a price support mechanism that boosts the illegal market.

Assembled by Jon Gettman, adjunct assistant professor in criminal justice at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va., the new report says:

• Marijuana arrests have almost doubled since 1991 -- but levels of marijuana use have remained fundamentally unchanged

• Penalties that increase for larger amounts of marijuana encourage consumers to make multiple small purchases, acting as a de facto price support for the illicit market

• Florida has the nation's harshest marijuana penalties, while the District of Columbia has the highest arrest rate for marijuana offenses

• Although African Americans use marijuana at a rate only about 25 percent higher than whites, blacks are almost three times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as whites

Washington state: Harsh penalties, $170 million per year wasted on marijuana enforcement

• There were 16,473 arrests for marijuana offenses in Washington in 2007, representing an arrest rate of 255 per 100,000, which ranks Washington at number 26 in the nation

• There were an estimated 630,000 past year marijuana users in Washington during 2007. Reconciling this estimate with the
number of arrests for marijuana offenses provides an arrest rate of 2,615 per 100,000 users, which ranks Washington at number 34 in the nation

• In terms of overall severity of maximum sentences for marijuana possession, Washington's penalties are rather stiff, ranking number 8 in the nation (based on penalties for a first offense). When it comes to penalties for just under 1 ounce of marijuana, Washington is ranked at number 8 (because of similarities between states there are only 12 rankings in this category).

• Marijuana possession arrests accounted for 90% of all marijuana arrests in Washington during 2007. (Nationally, marijuana possession arrests account for 89% of all marijuana arrests.)

• There were 14,766 arrests for marijuana possession in Washington in 2007, and 1,707 arrests for marijuana sales.

• The arrest rate for marijuana possession in Washington was 228 per 100,000 for 2007, while the arrest rate for marijuana sales was 26.

• Marijuana arrests accounted for 48% of all drug arrests in Washington during 2007.

• Marijuana arrests in Washington increased from 14,726 in 2003 to 16,473 in 2007. The arrest rate in 2003 was 240 per 100,000 while in 2007 it was 255.

• Marijuana arrests cost $169.39 million in Washington for 2006.

• There were 630,000 annual marijuana users in Washington during 2007, of which 397,000 reported marijuana use in the past month.

For more details, see the Washington state report [PDF]).

Populous King County leads the state in number of marijuana arrests. But statistically, Garfield County is by far the worst place in the state to live if you're a pothead. Marijuana arrest rates there are almost double anywhere else in Washington...

...That is, unless you're a black pothead. In which case, you rrrreally don't wanna live in Lincoln County -- where marijuana arrest rates of blacks are more than four times that of any other county in the state. Selective enforcement, anyone?

MPP's Rob Kampia: "a failed policy... doing nothing but harm" (Photo: Marijuana Policy Project)

"These figures paint a devastating portrait of a failed policy that burns through tax dollars while doing nothing but harm," said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) in Washington, D.C. "Most Americans agree that marijuana prohibition doesn't work, even if most politicians aren't yet ready to publicly agree with their constituents."

Gettman's summary report is available here: Marijuana Arrests in the United States (2007).

The full Marijuana Policy Almanac includes state rankings and individual reports for all 50 states plus the District of Columbia.

Chronic City: Academic Study Shows Marijuana Arrests Have No Impact On Usage Rates

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