While police were busy arresting pot smokers by the hundreds of thousands last year, violent crime reports increased for the first time in a decade. According to the FBI's annual report, Crime in the United States, released Monday, police arrested 723,627 people on marijuana charges last year, an insignificant decrease from 2000's all-time high of 734,498 marijuana arrests.
Meanwhile, violent crime and property crimes as measured by the FBI's Crime Index Offenses (murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny-theft and motor vehicle theft) rose by 2.1%, the first increase since 1991. Overall, crimes of violence were up 0.8%, with robbery up 3.7%, murder up 2.5% (not counting the September 11, 2001 attacks), and forcible rape was up 0.3%. Property crimes were up 2.3%, led by motor vehicle theft at 5.7% and burglary at 2.9%. While all this was going on, pot busts accounted for more than one out of every 20 arrests made nationwide last year, and almost 90% of those -- some 641,108 -- were for simple possession. Police last year arrested more marijuana users than violent criminals (627,132).
"While the rest of the world is moving away from marijuana prohibition, the US continues to march backwards," said Robert Kampia, executive director of the Washington, DC-based Marijuana Policy Project (http://www.mpp.org). "We now estimate that there are approximately 77,000 marijuana prisoners in US prisons and jails," Kampia added. "To what purpose? Federal officials keep saying that marijuana must be kept illegal to prevent young people from using it. But from 1991 to 2000 the number of marijuana possession arrests tripled, while during that same period, according to the government's own figures, the number of 12-to 17-year-olds trying marijuana for the first time doubled. Just how much failure does it take before our government is willing to reconsider its policies?" he asked. "Americans are coming to realize that marijuana prohibition is a cruel, destructive failure -- a message we expect voters to deliver loud and clear on Election Day." MPP is the sponsor of Nevadans for Responsible Law Enforcement, the campaign to enact Nevada's marijuana reform question.
"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 (http://www.norml.org). "In fact, the war on drugs is largely a war on pot smokers. This effort is a tremendous waste of criminal justice resources that should be dedicated toward combating serious and violent crime, including the war on terrorism," Stroup added. "It's time we stopped arresting adults who smoke marijuana responsibly."
More than 14 million people have been arrested on marijuana charges since 1965, according to the Uniform Crime Reports, nearly half of them in the last ten years. In the last decade, annual marijuana arrest figures have skyrocketed, rising from 342,314 in 1992 to more than 700,000 each year since 1999.
Marijuana smokers were not alone among drug users in feeling the long reach of the law. According to the FBI, nearly 1.6 million people were arrested on drug charges (including marijuana) in 2001 -- as many as were arrested for all property crimes in the same year. More than 80% of drug arrests were solely for possession.
The annual report, "Crime in the US 2001," is available at http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/01cius.htm online.