Police made 757,969 arrests in 2011 for marijuana-related offenses, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s annual Uniform Crime Report, released today. The total is a decrease from past years. During the years 2006 to 2010, police annually made over 800,000 arrests for cannabis violations.
According to the report, marijuana arrests now comprise one-half of all illicit drug arrests in the United States. Approximately 43 percent of all drug violations are for cannabis possession.
“As in past years, the so-called ‘drug war’ remains fueled by the arrests of minor marijuana possession offenders,” NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said. “Cannabis prohibition financially burdens taxpayers, encroaches upon civil liberties, engenders disrespect for the law, impedes upon legitimate scientific research into the plant’s medicinal properties, and disproportionately impacts communities of color. It’s time to stop stigmatizing and criminalizing tens of millions of Americans for choosing to consume a substance that is safer than either tobacco or alcohol.”
Of those charged in 2011 with marijuana law violations, 663,032 (86 percent) were arrested for marijuana offenses involving possession only. The remaining 94,937 individuals were charged with “sale/manufacture,” a category that includes virtually all cultivation offenses.
By region, the percentage of marijuana arrests was highest in the Midwest (61 percent of all drug arrests) of the United States and lowest in the west, where marijuana violations comprised only 29 percent of total drug arrests.
On Tuesday, November 6, voters in three states — Colorado, Oregon, and Washington — will decide on statewide ballot measures that seek to allow for the personal possession and regulated distribution of cannabis for adults. In two states, Colorado and Washington, these measures are ahead in the polls by double digit leads.
In the 25 years from 1986 to 2010, police and sheriffs’ departments in Colorado made 210,000 arrests for the crime of possessing small amounts of marijuana, according to a report released today by the Marijuana Arrest Research Project.
The study finds that cannabis arrests have risen sharply in the state, from 4,000 in 1986 to 10,500 in 2010, and that young people are most likely to among those arrested. According to the report, eighty-six percent of those arrested for cannabis offenses were age 34 or younger; 79 percent were 29 or younger, and 69 percent were 24 or younger.
The report also finds that African Americans and Latinos are arrested at greater rates than Caucasians despite being less likely to consume cannabis. African Americans residing in Colorado are arrested at three times the rate of whites, while Latinos are arrested at 1.5 times the rate of whites. The report is first study to document arrest rates of Latinos in Colorado.
Proponents of Amendment 64, The Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act of 2012, believe that the arrest data emphasizes the need for passing the measure this November. If approved, A-64 would immediately amend state law to allow for the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and/or the cultivation of up to six cannabis plants by adults.
According to the latest statewide polling data, 48 percent of Colorado voters support A-64. Forty-three percent of likely voters oppose the initiative and nine percent are undecided. Women voters oppose A-64 by a margin of 48 percent to 40 percent. NORML and the NORML Women’s Alliance are coordinating phone banking efforts in support of the Campaign here.
A separate report by the Project, released earlier this month, similarly found that police in Washington are arresting marijuana offenders in increasing numbers. That report found that law enforcement have made over 241,000 arrests for cannabis offenses in the past 25 years. Blacks in Washington state were arrested for marijuana possession at more than twice the rate of whites. Latinos were arrested at rates more than 50 percent higher than whites, the report found.
Washington state voters will decide in November on I-502, which seeks to regulate the production and sale of limited amounts of marijuana for adults. The measure also removes criminal penalties specific to the adult possession of up to one ounce of cannabis for personal use. In the latest polling, I-502 leads by a margin of 54 percent to 38 percent.
Learn more about marijuana in the 2012 election by reading NORML’s voter guide, Smoke the Vote.
New Approach Washington, the campaign behind Washington State’s marijuana legalization initiative (I-502), has just released two new television ads that began airing today. What makes these advertisements even more notable is that they both prominently feature former federal law enforcement officials. The importance of this is perfectly summed up by former NORML Board Member and writer for Washington’s “The Stranger,” Dominic Holden:
This is a big deal: The new ads for Initiative 502 that begin airing today, which encourage Washington to become the first state to legalize marijuana, star former federal law enforcement.
I know—if you watch politics around here, you know they’re on board and their endorsement seems… banal. Don’t be jaded. Former US Attorneys John McKay and Kate Pflaumer, along with the FBI’s Charlie Mandigo, make the most persuasive case for legalization: Pot laws result in using limited law enforcement resources that should instead be focused on violent crime.
Every time that pot legalization—even decriminalization—has gone to voters in other states, federal law enforcement have delivered the coup de grace, largely by virtue of their credibility. This time, it’s the opposite. These prosecutors and an agent get in the first word for legalization, and with $1 million in the bank and up to $2 million more on the way, the New Approach Washington campaign is going to hit this message hard. This is a coup.
You can view the new TV spots below. Please share as widely as possible with your friends and family. Together we can end marijuana prohibition, let’s Smoke the Vote in November. Previous polling for I-502 in September had support for the effort at 57%, help us keep up the momentum going into election day by educating everyone you know about the importance of cannabis reform in the 2012 election. You can learn more about these initiatives and the presidential candidates’ statements on marijuana by reading NORML’s voter guide available here.
YES ON I-502!
You can visit the campaign’s website for more info here.
In a milestone that will no doubt go largely unnoticed by the mainstream media, today marks the 75th anniversary of the enactment of federal marijuana prohibition. On October 1, 1937, the US government criminally outlawed the possession and cultivation of cannabis — setting into motion a public policy that today results in some 850,000 arrests per year and has led to more than 20 million arrests since 1965.
But times are changing. Now, for the first time, a majority of Americans say that they favor replacing this failed policy with one of cannabis legalization and regulation. Further, on November 6th, voters in three states — Colorado, Oregon, and Washington — will decide at the ballot box whether to allow for the limited legalization of cannabis for adults. According to the latest polls, voters Colorado and Washington appear ready to take this historic step, while Oregonians remain closely divided on the issue.
That is why we have themed this week’s 41st national NORML Conference in Los Angeles ‘The Final Days of Prohibition’. (Conference registration information is here.) Today we reflect upon the decades of failure imposed by prohibition; tomorrow we look to the very near future when cannabis prohibition is abolished once and for all.
Below is an excerpt from Chapter 4 of Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? (2009, Chelsea Green) which looks back at how we got into this mess in the first place.
By 1935, most states in the country had enacted laws criminalizing the possession and use of pot, and newspaper editors were frequently opining in favor of stiffer and stiffer penalties for marijuana users. As [US Federal Bureau of Narcotics' Director Harry J.] Anslinger’s rhetoric became prominent, he found additional allies who were willing to carry his propagandist message to the general public. Among these were the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Hearst newspaper chain – the latter of which luridly editorialized against the “insidious and insanity producing marihuana” in papers across the country.
Members of state and local law enforcement also joined the FBN’s anti-marijuana crusade. Writing in The Journal of Criminology, Wichita, Kansas, police officer L. E. Bowery asserted that the cannabis user is capable of “great feats of strength and endurance, during which no fatigue is felt.” Bowery’s toxic screed, which for years thereafter would be hailed by advocates of prohibition as the definitive ‘study’ of the drug, concluded:
“Sexual desires are stimulated and may lead to unnatural acts, such as indecent exposure and rape. … [Marijuana use] ends in the destruction of brain tissues and nerve centers, and does irreparably damage. If continued, the inevitable result is insanity, which those familiar with it describe as absolutely incurable, and, without exception ending in death.”
… By 1937, Congress – which had resisted efforts to clamp down on the drug some two decades earlier – was poised to act, and act quickly, to enact blanket federal prohibition. Ironically, by this time virtually every state had already ratified laws against cannabis possession. Nonetheless, local authorities argued that the marijuana threat was so great that federal intervention was also necessary.
On April 14, 1937, Rep. Robert L. Doughton of North Carolina introduced House Bill 6385, which sought to stamp out the recreational use of marijuana by imposing a prohibitive tax on the drug. The measure was the brainchild of the U.S. Treasury Department, and mandated a $100 per ounce tax on the transfer of cannabis to members of the general public. Ironically, a separate anti-marijuana measure introduced that same year sought to directly outlaw possession and use of the drug. However this proposal was assumed at that time to have been beyond the constitutional authority of Congress.
Members of Congress held only two hearings to debate the merits of Rep. Doughton’s bill. The federal government’s chief witness, Harry Anslinger, told members of the House Ways and Means Committee that “traffic in marijuana is increasing to such an extent that it has come to be the cause for the greatest national concern. … This drug is entirely the monster Hyde, the harmful effect of which cannot be measured.”
Other witnesses included a pair of veterinarians who testified that dogs were particularly susceptible to marijuana’s effects. “Over a period of six months or a year (of exposure to marijuana), … the animal must be discarded because it is no longer serviceable,” one doctor testified. This would be the extent of ‘scientific’ testimony presented to the Committee.
The American Medical Association (AMA) represented the most vocal opposition against the bill. Speaking before Congress, the AMA’s Legislative Counsel Dr. William C. Woodward challenged the legitimacy of the alleged ‘Demon Weed.’
“We are told that the use of marijuana causes crime. But yet no one has been produced from the Bureau of Prisons to show the number of prisoners who have been found addicted to the marijuana habit. An informal inquiry shows that the Bureau of Prisons has no evidence on that point.
You have been told that school children are great users of marijuana cigarettes. No one has been summoned from the Children’s Bureau to show the nature and extent of the habit among children. Inquiry of the Children’s Bureau shows that they have had no occasion to investigate it and no nothing particularly of it.
… Moreover, there is the Treasury Department itself, the Public Health Service. … Informal inquiry by me indicates that they have no record of any marijuana or cannabis addicts.”
Woodward further argued that the proposed legislation would severely hamper physicians’ ability to utilize marijuana’s therapeutic potential. While acknowledging that the drug’s popularity as a prescription medicine had declined, Woodward nonetheless warned that the Marihuana Tax Act “loses sight of the fact that future investigations may show that there are substantial medical uses for cannabis.”
Woodward’s criticisms of the bill’s intent – as well as his questions regarding whether such legislation was objectively justifiable – drew a stern rebuke from the Chairman of the Committee. “If you want to advise us on legislation, you ought to come here with some constructive proposals, rather than criticism, rather than trying to throw obstacles in the way of something that the federal government is trying to do,” the AMA’s counsel was told. “Is not the fact that you were not consulted your real objection to this bill?”
Despite the AMA’s protests, the House Ways and Means Committee approved House Bill 6385. House members even went so far as to elevate the Anslinger’s propaganda to Congressional findings of fact, stating:
“Under the influence of this drug the will is destroyed and all power directing and controlling thought is lost. … [M]any violent crimes have been and are being committed by persons under the influence of this drug. … [S]chool children … have been driven to crime and insanity through the use of this drug. Its continued use results many times in impotency and insanity.”
Anslinger made similar horrific pronouncements before members of the Senate, which spent even less time debating than the measure than had the House. By June, less than three months after the bill’s introduction, the House of Representatives voted affirmatively to pass the proposal, which was described by one congressman as having “something to do with something that is called marijuana. I believe it is a narcotic of some kind.”
Weeks later, after the Senate had approved their version of the bill, the House was asked to vote once again on the measure. Prior to the House’s final vote, one representative asked whether the American Medical Association had endorsed the proposal, to which a member of the Ways and Means Committee replied, “Their Dr. Wharton (sic) gave this measure his full support.” Following this brief exchange of inaccurate information, Congress gave its final approval of the Marihuana Tax Act without a recorded vote.
President Franklin Roosevelt promptly signed the legislation into law. The Marihuana Tax Act officially took effect on October 1, 1937 – thus setting in motion the federal government’s foray into the criminal enforcement of marijuana laws which continues unabated today.
NORML and the NORML Women’s Alliance are pleased to announce their support and official endorsement of The Movement for Peace and Justice with Dignity, along with the American-based organization Global Exchange’s “Caravan for Peace.”
“This campaign will draw public attention to the damage marijuana
prohibition is causing not only in our country, but in Mexico as well. This multi-national coalition of drug reform, human rights, religious and progressive organizations have come together with one objective; raising awareness about, and ending, our 75 year violent and failed drug prohibition,” said Sabrina Fendrick of the NORML Women’s Alliance.
[From the website:] The Caravan represents one element of a broad strategy responding to Mexico’s violent national emergency resulting from Drug War policies (in Mexico and the U.S.) gone tragically wrong. The idea of the Caravan is to make Mexico’s national emergency tangible in the United States and to create a platform where those affected by the Drug War from Mexico, the U.S. and elsewhere can join their voices to inform public opinion on both sides of the border.
The Caravan takes place at a politically charged moment. It begins in San Diego, six weeks after Mexico’s July 1 presidential election and arrives in Washington, D.C. in September, six weeks prior to the U.S. elections. This summer we will bring communities together around events large and small, turning awareness into action and building a movement that will continue pushing for changes at the local, state, national and international level long after the Caravan has passed through.
The U.S. Caravan’s mission is, among other things:
- To make the connections between the impacts of the Drug War in Mexico (violence, deaths and rise of organized crime) and in the U.S. (criminalization, incarceration, and life-long marginalization- disproportionately affecting African-American and Latino communities);
- To promote a civil society discourse with the American public and opinion leaders about the policies (easy access to assault weapons, militarization of drug enforcement and U.S. prohibition policies) at the root of the crisis;
- To foster collaboration and effective solidarity among a broad range of progressive, grassroots, religious, humanitarian and other organizations; and
- To leave, in the Caravan’s wake, informed, organized, and mobilized communities of activists who will pursue reform strategies in the near and long-term on both sides of the border.
NORML chapters across the country, as well as NORML Women’s Alliance community groups will be taking part in the campaign as the caravan arrives in their respective locations. If there are other groups who are interested in getting involved with the Caravan, please click here to find your local contact.