Marijuana Arrests Up Even as Public More Accepting of Use

Pounds of marijuana flower and hash on the hood of a Eureka Police car after a man was stopped for speeding in 2015. [Photo from the EPD]

Pounds of marijuana flower and hash on the hood of a Eureka Police car after a man was stopped for speeding in 2015. [Photo from the EPD]

Almost everyone has an opinion on America’s War on Drugs. Thad Greenson of the North Coast Journal is no exception. He allowed us to repost his thoughtful essay.

Twenty-nine states have now legalized marijuana in some form, including seven that have passed laws legalizing recreational adult use, and a host of recent polls show that about 60 percent of Americans favor just legalizing the plant and moving on. All that said, you’d be forgiven for doing a double take when looking at the 2016 crime statistics the FBI released Monday.

According to the bureau’s numbers, 5 percent of the nation’s arrests last year were for marijuana possession — that’s more people than were arrested for murder, rape, aggravated assault and robbery combined. (To be fair, there are a lot more people in the United States who hold a little weed from time to time than commit violent crime, thankfully.) But that’s still more than 653,000 people arrested for marijuana-related offenses in 2016, according to the Washington Post, which crunched the numbers and found that, on average, someone was arrested for a cannabis related charge every 48 seconds last year. (If that average holds strong in 2017, about two people will have been arrested by the time you finish reading this column.)

And while popular sentiment seems to be trending in the opposite direction, that’s an increase of about 1.5 percent from 2015, or more than 10,000 additional lives ensnared by cannabis prohibition. This news should be particularly troubling among minorities, as studies have shown blacks to be between three to four times more likely to be arrested for possession than their white counterparts, despite similar usage rates.

All together, marijuana arrests made up 41.5 percent of all drug arrests last year. (Arrests for “heroin, cocaine and their derivatives,” meanwhile, accounted for about 25 percent of the total.)

It should be noted that these numbers are from 2016, the last year of the Obama administration, before President Trump and his marijuana-is-only-less-awful-than-heroin Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III took office.

The marijuana arrest rates are troubling, to be sure, but let’s back up a moment. Last year, 1.5 million people were arrested on drug charges in the United States — that’s more than the population of 12 states. Meanwhile, in 2016, the U.S. saw drug overdoses kill roughly 64,000 people, an average of about 175 a day, according to the Centers for Disease Control, including almost 50,000 from opioids. All told, people in the United States are overdosing at rates higher than they died from car crashes, gun violence or AIDS in their deadliest years, and that’s not even including the 88,000 or so Americans who die annually from alcohol-related causes, according to the National Institute of Health.

Meanwhile, the Drug Policy Alliance estimates we spend about $51 billion annually on drug-related arrests and incarcerations. It’s high time we asked what return we’re getting on that investment. We certainly have many more police officers — 750,000 in 2012, the last year data is available from the Bureau of Justice, which was a 24 percent increase from two decades earlier. And the increase makes sense, as we have criminalized a large swath of the population and increasingly ask our officers to be social workers and counselors when they’re not protecting us from violent criminals.

But there has to be a better way and, plainly, the 175 daily national overdoses — not to mention the scores of hopelessly addicted people and spent needles we see everywhere in Humboldt County — seem a poor return on that $51 billion.

It’s a small step, but maybe as a start we can take however much money we as a nation spent arresting, jailing and prosecuting those 600,000-plus marijuana offenders last year and put it toward treatment. In a rational world, it seems the very least we can do.



  • The Hermit of Grizzly Mountain

    “the Washington Post… found that, on average, someone was arrested for a cannabis related charge every 48 seconds last year. (If that average holds strong in 2017, about two people will have been arrested by the time you finish reading this column.)”

    Some forum commentators who enjoy news of cannabis-related arrests may wish to re-read this column multiple times 😉

  • I’m sure those individuals will be even happier reading this article!!! Their “minds” are made up Do NOT under ANY circumstances let them be confused by facts, about Cannabis being a MUCH safer alternative to alcohol, as well as harder drugs!!!

    • Leave Norcal if you are weed haters man… like KKK guys in Harlem

      • Weed is ruining life in Northern California. Stoners add no value, growers add no cache. Pirates everywhere, jails choking on stupid drug crime. Violence. What the heck is there to like about cannabis or the whole “industry”?

        • Prices are in free fall it’s a race to the bottom only the largest of growers will be left the Monsanto will take them out and at some point you’ll get your towns and communities back.

        • Well, it has been the mainstay of your economy for 30 years.
          How about that?

          • Patriot in Willits

            We can all see it coming to an end. Marijuana is slightly different because of it being illegal, but the economic realities are similar to making steel in the midwest. You might have A corner on the market for decades, but competition will eventually drive prices down to the point where it is no longer viable. The “boutique weed” niche will keep a fraction of the growers going, but it is never going to be what it was.

        • The Earth is round, cancer sucks, and cannabis is a medicinal flower… a gateway drug to better health.

        • AND, Humco may allow this and that, but it is NOT legal to just do whatever you want…

    • If its not a drug and is so safe then why at the end of article does it say to send them to treatment instead of jail?? Hmmm?

      • i think it’s saying send the hundreds of thousands of people overdosing and dying from opioids and alcohol to treatment. although I guess if someone wanted help for weed abuse…anything can be abused.

      • Buzzard – Some people go to rehab for coffee… Its a “drug” like pot… natural …. Mormons dont drink soda because of caffeine… Maybe Utah is a better fit for u

  • Thinking allowed

    The source of the story, the Drug Policy Alliance, has a goal of making all drugs legal because the ‘war on drugs has destroyed lives.’ Not a an unbiased source.

    For one thing a charge of marijuana posession is almost never a cause for incarceration even in the strictest locations. It is accompanied as an added charge to DUI, theft, assault, etc. So it can be that the rapist, theft, driver, etc also had pot on them and the fact that pot use is so ubiquitous might mean that is the reason it is so used as a charge. A person pulled over on suspicion of impaired driving might very well get charged with possession if they have pot because it is so easy to prove.

    You can hardly drive down a road these days without the stink of pot hitting you. If simply possession was really a sole cause for arrest, then money could be made with a meter maid driving down the road locating the source of the stink.

    Even if it is true that pot is safer, does anyone really want pot DUIs in addition to alcohol DUIs? Because it is not an alternative as alcohol DUIs don’t take a nosedive where pot has become widespread. It increases the total DUIs.

    Like a neighbor who spends a couple of hours each morning smoking pot, then gets in her car to drive to work. She is adding to the likelihood of someone getting hurt independently of the alcoholics on the road.

    • They are not unbiased because they value human life. Great point.

      • That assumes they value all life,not just those involved in or convicted of drug possession. Since their site doesn’t mention anything about the lives damaged or ended because of other’s drug use, I think it unlikely they can be balanced.

    • it seems you have never smoked pot. FYI the majority of the arrest related to this article were in the south where they are still worried about black men sleeping with their white women. pot and alcohol or other hard drugs are worlds away in comparison. if you ask me, alcohol should be illegal. every stupid thing I have ever done has been when I was drunk and sometimes to the point where I was blacked out. I have never blacked out smoking pot. this incarceration figure is tied to racism.

      • Wow. Not even a pretence of thinking an issue through there. Pot arrests are racist? Straight to the stereotype.

        Frankly a person who blacks out due to alcohol abuse is much safer for everyone else than the one who keeps going with highly impaired thinking.

        It’s not all about you. Nor any drug user. It also includes what they do to everyone else.

        • it seems you have never blacked out either. you don’t pass out when you are blacked out. nothing is about us, we are not the future, our children are. I got rid of pride decades ago, you should work on it.

          • True. I’ve never done either since I was 20. Don’t know intoxication. That obviously makes me unqualified… wait!

            Does being sober in the presence of those who are not qualify? In which I can say that people who use pot regularly can’t think well as they can’t seem to sustain a train of logic long enough to weed out errors. This results in poor judgement. But it’s not just the occasional mistake. It’s one poor choice after another. As when I gave up trying to explain to a neighbor each time he asked the same question about a risky action and finally just repeated each time “It will kill you.”

            The only people I’ve ever known both pre and post pot consumption is when they were forced to give it because of a medical condition. Two people. Where upon their judgement improved. Not the usual result of being very sick but there it is. As one said “My thinking is clearer now.”

        • what? when u black out that means u don’t remember all the stupid crazy stuff u did. “frankly” that’s when the stupidest most dangerous decisions are made…like driving or fighting or whatever. and unfortunately pot arrests are way harsher on minorities and I’m not someone who supports the people of color can do no wrong type attitude. but they definetly made weed illegal to screw with black and Mexican people. it’s a fact. they used it so they could arrest hippies and black people… just telling it like it is.
          don’t u think if the people legalized it they should stop fucking with people for possessing it?

      • I agree alcohol should be illegal it has devastated families and live many many decades.

    • I see your point but where are your facts to back these statements up?

      Personal feeling vs facts

    • I will gladly take a bunch of stoners on the road ways than all the sheep nowadays who literally can not put down their cell phone even for a 10 minute drive!

    • The mm aroma is everywhere now, and soo strong.

  • Sure. And if we just legalize EVERYTHING then we won’t have anybody getting arrested ever! Doesn’t that sound like a clever solution?

    • better hope they don’t make being a jerk off illegal. haha jk…but seriouly.

    • Well that sure doesn’t sound clever in the least bit, but legalizing all drugs does. If that were the case then law enforcement could focus on arresting real threat to society criminals such as child molesters, thieves, rapists, murderers, etc. And there would be plenty of jail cot spaces to keep these real criminals behind bars unlike now where jails and prisons are way overcrowded because there are so many people with simple drug possession charges. Legalize all drugs!

  • shawn the fisherman

    The statistics do not lie, Statisticians do. Statistics from 2017 will be of more interest.

  • Thank you for sharing Kym!

  • Looks like last years’ crap….Should have seal-a-mealed…..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *