The number of people arrested for marijuana offenses in the US last year was a record 829,625, according to the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report. The figure marks the fourth consecutive year and 11th time in the last 15 years that marijuana arrests hit an all-time high. More than five million people have been arrested for marijuana since 2000 alone.
Overall, some 1,889,810 people were arrested on drug charges last year -- another all-time high. More than eight out of ten of all drug arrests were for possession alone, and 89% of all marijuana arrests for possession.
The total number of marijuana arrests in the US for 2006 far exceeded the total number of arrests in the US for all violent crimes combined, including murder, manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault. The number of total drug arrests was greater than that for any other offense.
No law enforcement organizations contacted by the Chronicle responded to requests for comment on the link (or lack of) between continuing high levels of drug arrests and violent crime, but representatives of groups that would like to see fewer drug arrests were quick to respond to the numbers.
"These numbers are sadly not too surprising because we put a lot of money into arresting drug users," said Doug McVay, policy analyst for Common Sense for Drug Policy. "That's what we're paying police to do. Law enforcement has to produce body counts to justify increased funding, and the way to do it is with drug users. There's an endless supply."
"These numbers refute the common myth that police will look the other way when it comes to personal marijuana possession," said Scott Morgan of Flex Your Rights, a group that instructs citizens on how to effectively exert their right to be free of unwarranted searches and seizures. "Liberal attitudes about pot have created a false sense of security for many, but the truth is that you can get in big trouble for it. In any police encounter, the best strategy is to refuse searches and not answer incriminating questions," he advised.
"The steady escalation of marijuana arrests is happening in direct defiance of public opinion," said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). "Voters in communities all over the country, from Denver to Seattle to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and Missoula County, Montana, have passed measures saying they don't want marijuana arrests to be a priority, yet marijuana arrests have set an all-time record for four years running. It appears that police are taking their cue from White House drug czar John Walters, who is obsessed with marijuana, rather than the public who pays their salaries," he said.
McVay pointed to the low criminal offense clearance rates also contained in the Uniform Crime Report. For property crimes overall, the clearance rate is only 16%, while even for murder, it was only 60%. "Those numbers are criminal," said McVay. "There's only one chance out of six that the cops will find out who broke into your home or stole your car. If the police weren't busy arresting drug users, maybe we wouldn't be seeing such low clearance rates and this increase in violent crime."
"Two other major points standout from today's record marijuana arrests," St. Pierre continued. "Overall, there has been a dramatic 188% increase in marijuana arrests in the last 15 years -- yet the public's access to pot remains largely unfettered and the self-reported use of cannabis remains largely unchanged. Second, America's Midwest is decidedly the hotbed for marijuana-related arrests with 57% of all marijuana-related arrests. The region of America with the least amount of marijuana-related arrests is the West with 30%. This latter result is arguably a testament to the passage of various state and local decriminalization efforts over the past several years."
"The bottom line is that we are wasting billions of dollars each year on a failed policy," Kampia said. "Despite record arrests, marijuana use remains higher than it was 15 years ago, when arrests were less than half the present level, and marijuana is the number one cash crop in the US. Marijuana is scientifically proven to be far safer than alcohol, and it's time to start regulating marijuana the same way we regulate wine, beer and liquor."