The US crime rate entered its third year of virtual stagnation in 2002 and is dramatically lower than a decade ago, the FBI reported on Wednesday, but the war on drugs continues to scoop up Americans by the millions. According to the FBI's annual uniform crime report, "Crime in the United States 2002," more than 1.5 million people were arrested on drug charges last year, roughly 80% of them for simple possession. Marijuana users made up nearly half of all drug arrests, with some 693,000 pot busts last year, 88% of them for simple possession.
The marijuana arrest figure is down slightly from 2001's 723,000 arrests and the all-time high of 734,000 arrests achieved during the last year of the Clinton administration. By contrast, in 1993, the year Bill Clinton took office, the number of arrests was 380,000. In a virtual hempen holocaust, more than six million Americans have been arrested on marijuana charges in the past decade alone.
Marijuana activists were quick to jump on the findings. "It's ironic and sad that marijuana arrests remain at record levels at the same time that Americans are celebrating the 70th anniversary of the repeal of alcohol prohibition. Americans agree that alcohol prohibition failed to eliminate alcohol use, and this latest FBI report shows that marijuana prohibition is not preventing people from using marijuana," said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project (http://www.mpp.org). "Marijuana prohibition is an example of how a cure can be more harmful than the disease it's intended to treat. The simple use of marijuana ruins relatively few lives, but arresting 700,000 adults for marijuana disrupts the lives of millions of marijuana users and their families every year."
While law enforcement sources contacted by DRCNet for various stories almost uniformly claim that marijuana is a low priority, the numbers strongly suggest that somebody is arresting pot-smokers like crazy. "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), who noted that at current rates, a marijuana smoker is arrested every 45 seconds in America. "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."
But the "war on terror" notwithstanding, there is just not that much crime these days, according to the FBI. Violent crime decreased 0.9% last year, making the level 7% lower than five years ago and a whopping 26% lower than in 1993. Similarly, the most violent crime -- murder -- is down 34% from a decade ago. Likewise, while property crime was up 0.1% over 2001, last year's figures are 14.5% lower than in 1993. The measure of serious crimes per 100,000 population is also down significantly. The current figure of 4,119 serious crimes per 100,000 is 11% lower than 1998 and 25% lower than in 1993. Still, total arrests increased by 0.5% last year.
Drug arrests made up about 10% of all arrests and constituted the single largest grouping of arrests. With more than 1.5 million drug arrests, there were more than twice as many drug arrests as arrests for all violent crimes combined (620,000), for larceny (1.16 million), for drunk driving (1.46 million), or for liquor law violations and drunkenness arrests combined (1.23 million). Only when minor theft (larceny) is added to the list of property crimes does its total (1.61 million) slightly exceed drug arrests.
Marijuana possession accounted for almost 40% of drug arrests, followed by heroin and cocaine possession (21%), "other dangerous non-narcotic drugs" (16%), and synthetics (3%). Simple possession arrests constituted four-fifths of all drug arrest in 2001. But when it comes to drug sales and distribution, heroin and cocaine take the lead with more than 40% of all sales arrests, while marijuana sales or manufacture accounted for 22% of all drug arrests.
"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," pointed out NORML's Stroup.
The FBI figures also strongly suggest that the war on drugs is becoming a war on youth. While most other crime fell dramatically during the last decade, drug arrests were up 37% over 1993, and for people under 18, the increase was an even more dramatic 59.1%, with more than 116,000 teens busted for drugs in 2001. With youth crime also down dramatically in the past decade -- murder was down by 64%, robbery down 38%, car theft down 50%, weapons offenses down 46% -- drug busts appear to be one of the few remaining ways to arrest young people. There were also increases in teen arrest rates for "offenses against families and children" (up 48%), drunk driving (up 45%), and curfew violations (up 35%), but given the general decline in teen crime, these arrests may be driven by tougher enforcement rather than greater actual offense levels.
And, of course, blacks remain disproportionately targeted by the drug war. Although African Americans constitute about 13% of the population and a like percentage of drug users, they made up 32.5% of all drug arrests, the FBI reported.
Visit http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/ucr.htm to read the Uniform Crime Report online.