Marijuana Arrests Hit Record High

Police arrested an estimated 755,187 persons for marijuana violations in 2003, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's annual Uniform Crime Report, released today. The total is the highest ever recorded by the FBI, and comprised 45 percent of all drug arrests in the United States.

"These numbers belie the myth that police do not target and arrest minor marijuana offenders," said Keith Stroup, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), who noted that at current rates, a marijuana smoker is arrested every 42 seconds in America. "This effort is a tremendous waste of criminal justice resources, costing American taxpayers approximately $7.6 billion dollars annually. These dollars would be better served combating serious and violent crime, including the war on terrorism."

Of those charged with marijuana violations, 88 percent – some 662,886 Americans – were charged with possession only. The remaining 92,301 individuals were charged with "sale/manufacture," a category that includes all cultivation offenses, even those where the marijuana was being grown for personal or medical use. In past years, approximately 30 percent of those arrested were age 19 or younger.

"Present policies have done little if anything to decrease marijuana's availability or dissuade youth from trying it," Stroup said, noting that a majority of young people now report that they have easier access to pot than alcohol or tobacco.

The total number of marijuana arrests for 2003 far exceeded the total number of arrests for all violent crimes combined, including murder, manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

Marijuana arrests for 2003 increased 8 percent from the previous year, and have nearly doubled since 1993.

The new arrest report comes eight days before voters across the U.S. will consider a variety of measures to reform marijuana laws.

Voters across the country will consider a variety of marijuana policy reforms on November 2. A medical marijuana proposal is on the ballot in Montana, while Oregonians will consider broadening their existing medical marijuana law to allow patients to obtain their medicine from state-regulated dispensaries. Alaskans will vote on replacing marijuana prohibition with a system of taxation and regulation.

Oakland, Calif., voters will also decide whether to endorse taxation and regulation while making private, adult marijuana offenses the lowest priority for local law enforcement. An assortment of other marijuana reform proposals are on local ballots in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Columbia, Missouri, as well as in 12 legislative districts in Massachusetts.

In the past decade, more than 6.5 million Americans have been arrested on marijuana charges, more than the entire populations of Alaska, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming combined. Nearly 90 percent of these total arrests were for simple possession, not cultivation or sale. During much of this time, arrests for cocaine and heroin have declined sharply, indicating that increased enforcement of marijuana laws is being achieved at the expense of enforcing laws against the possession and trafficking of more dangerous drugs.

"Marijuana legalization would remove this behemoth financial burden from the criminal justice system, freeing up criminal justice resources to target other more serious crimes, and allowing law enforcement to focus on the highest echelons of hard-drug trafficking enterprises rather than on minor marijuana offenders who present no threat to public safety," Stroup said.

"It's safe to say that the drug war isn't preventing people from using marijuana," said Robert Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C. "It's time to acknowledge this reality by taxing and regulating marijuana. A responsible system of regulation will do a better job of keeping marijuana away from kids and end the pointless persecution of adults who use marijuana responsibly."

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