Marijuana: Surge in Arrests Has Little Effect on Use Rates, Study Finds 9/9/05

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Despite hundreds of thousands of marijuana arrests each year, law enforcement has proven ineffective in curbing usage, the Justice Policy Institute reported in a study released late last month. The study, "Efficacy and Impact: The Criminal Justice Response to Marijuana Policy in the United States," concluded that despite a huge increase in drug control spending -- from $65 million in 1970 to $19 billion currently, and that's just at the federal level -- rates of marijuana use have remained essentially unchanged, no matter whether arrests rates go up or down.

The report shows that marijuana usage has remained relatively stable in the past 20 years, except for a dramatic decline in the 1980s, when arrest rates were also declining. While arrest rates jumped 127% in the 1990s, marijuana usage also increased, although by a much more modest 22%.

The report shows that throughout the past 20 years, marijuana usage has remained relatively stable, except for a dramatic drop of 61 percent during the eighties, when arrest rates declined 24 percent. When arrest rates increased 127 percent during the 1990's, the rate of usage remained stable climbing only 22 percent.

"Despite billions in new spending and hundreds of thousands of new arrests, marijuana use seems to be unaffected by the huge criminal justice response to this drug," said Jason Ziedenberg, executive director of JPI, and coauthor of the report. According to Ziedenberg, as law enforcement focuses marijuana, a significant number of people are suffering from the impact of policies that do not seem to be deterring drug use.

In seven out of 10 states, marijuana arrests make up more than half of all drug arrests. On the high end, in both North Carolina and South Dakota, marijuana arrests accounted for a whopping 74% of all drug arrests. While those two states had the highest percentage of marijuana arrests, the per capita arrest rate prize goes to Texas, which arrested pot people at the rate of 222 per 100,000. With an estimated 829,000 marijuana users in Texas, the Lone Star state managed to arrest almost 49,000 in 2003.

There are currently 1,215 people in prison in Texas for marijuana offenses, 1,189 in California -- with a surprisingly high per capita arrest rate of 171 per 100,000 -- and 408 in Alabama. In total, the study estimates that 30,000 are doing hard time for marijuana crime in the United States.

According to Jason Colburn, policy analyst at JPI and the report's coauthor, US drug policy is not only having very little effect on marijuana usage, but it also imposes hefty collateral consequences on those being locked up for marijuana use.

"There are 13 million people with former felony convictions in the US, and thousands of people have been convicted of a felony offense involving marijuana. The collateral consequences they will face will not only impact them but their families and entire communities," said Colburn. "Depending on what state they live in, they may be denied public assistance, face substantial barriers to employment, experience drivers' license suspension, and lose the right to vote. Our criminal justice response to marijuana is impacting their ability to take care of their families or contribute as normal taxpaying citizens," added Colburn.

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Issue #402 -- 9/9/05

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