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Do The Math: The ‘War’ On Pot Is Largely A War Upon Young People

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A new study out today estimates that one-third of US young people will be arrested or taken into custody for illegal or delinquent offenses (excluding arrests for minor traffic violations) by the age of 23.

CBS News/Web MD reports on the findings here:

Study: Nearly 1 in 3 U.S. youths will be arrested by age 23

Parents and non-parents alike might be shocked to learn a new study estimates that roughly 1 in 3 U.S. youths will be arrested for a non-traffic offense by age 23 - a "substantively higher" proportion than predicted in the 1960s.

The study, posted online by the journal Pediatrics, shows that between about 25% to 41% of 23-year-olds have been arrested or taken into police custody at least once for a non-traffic offense. If you factor in missing cases, that percentage could lie between about 30% and 41%.

What was learned was that the risk was greatest during late adolescence or emerging adulthood. The study also shows that by age 18, about 16% to 27% have been arrested.

... The researchers base their conclusion on data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, ages 8 to 23. Data analyzed in the new study came from national surveys of youth conducted annually from 1997 to 2008.

Their finding contrasts with a 1965 study that predicted 22% of U.S. youths would be arrested for an offense other than a minor traffic violation by age 23.

Why the Rise in Arrests?

The researchers cite some "compelling reasons" for the increase.

"The criminal justice system has clearly become more aggressive in dealing with offenders (particularly those who commit drug offenses and violent crimes) since the 1960s," the authors, all criminologists, write. In addition, "there is some evidence that the transition from adolescence to adulthood has become a longer process."

From the 1920s through the 1960s, the proportion of the population that was incarcerated remained remarkably stable at about 100 inmates per 100,000 people, researcher Robert Brame, PhD, of the department of criminal justice and criminology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, tells WebMD. Today, Brame says, that figure has soared to 500 inmates per 100,000 people.

While it is commendable that CBS is highlighting the findings of this troubling data, it's frustrating that the network's editors appear blissfully unaware
of what is one of the most painfully obvious drivers of this surge in juvenile arrests: the ever-increasing enforcement of marijuana prohibition.

As I stated from the stage at the 2008 NORML national conference, "It's Not Your Parents' Prohibition," the so-called 'war' on pot is largely a criminal crackdown on young people.

Young people, in many cases those under 18-years-of-age, disproportionately bear the brunt of marijuana law enforcement.

... According to a 2005 study commissioned by the NORML Foundation, 74 percent of all Americans busted for pot are under age 30, and 1 out of 4 are age 18 or younger. That’s nearly a quarter of a million teenagers arrested for marijuana violations each year.

... [I]f we ever want the marijuana laws to change, that we as a community have to better represent the interests of young people, and we must do a better job speaking on their — and their parent’s — behalf.

(Read my entire remarks here.)

Since 1965, police have made an estimated 21.5 million arrests for marijuana-related offense, according to cumulative data published by the FBI. Some 8 million of these arrests have occurred since 2000.

Assuming that nearly three out of four of those arrested in the past decade were under age 30, that equates to the arrest of some 6 million young people -- including 2 million teenagers -- for marijuana-related offenses since the year 2000.

In short, marijuana prohibition isn't protecting kids; its endangering them. We now have an entire generation that has been alienated to believe that the police and their civic leaders are instruments of their oppression rather than their protection.