Ongoing Briefing (a monthly newsletter published by the
National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), October 1997, pp. 1-3

Marijuana Arrests For 1996 Most In Nation's History

642,000 Individuals Arrested On Marijuana Charges

State and local law enforcement arrested 642,000 individuals on marijuana charges in 1996, according to the latest edition of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Uniform Crime Report. The 1996 yearly arrest total for marijuana violations is the highest ever recorded by the FBI.

Of the 642,000 arrests made for marijuana in 1996, approximately 85 percent (544,700 arrests) were for simple "possession." The remaining 15 percent (96,300 arrests) were for "sale/manufacture," a category that includes all cultivation offenses - even those where marijuana was being grown for personal or medical use.

The new FBI statistics indicate that one marijuana smoker is arrested every 49 seconds in America.

The drastically rising number of marijuana arrests suggests that law enforcement officials are specifically targeting marijuana smokers. According to annual data from the U.S. Department of Health National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, marijuana use among adults has remained relatively stable throughout the 1990s. Despite this fact, marijuana arrests have risen 80 percent since 1990 and constituted 43 percent of all drug arrests made in 1996. Presently, the total number of marijuana arrests under the Clinton administration stands at approximately 2.1 million.

"These skyrocketing marijuana arrest figures are not the result of rising marijuana use patterns among American adults," NORML Executive R. Keith Stroup said. "They are indicative of a conscious decision by law enforcement to seek out and arrest marijuana smokers in greater numbers than ever before at a tremendous fiscal and social cost to society."

While there is a lack of information on the precise costs of marijuana prohibition in the available literature, the newest FBI data help to shed some light on the issue.

Annual federal government expenditures on the "war on drugs" average $15.7 billion. In addition, state and local governments also spend $16 billion per year enforcing drug laws. Since nearly 642,000 of the total 1.5 million drug arrests in America were for marijuana offenses, it is reasonable to assume that at least 40 percent of the total $32 billion annual costs are related to marijuana prohibition.

A second way to quantify the costs of marijuana prohibition is to isolate the yearly financial burden inflicted on the

see Record Arrests, page 2

Record Arrests
continued from page 1

criminal justice system by arresting over six hundred thousand otherwise law-abiding citizens on marijuana charges. Every time a marijuana arrest occurs - even the most trivial arrest - at least two police officers are taken off the street for several hours to prepare the paperwork and process the defendant. If one assumes for simplicity that all of the approximately 642,000 marijuana arrests reported in 1996 were simple cases involving no prior use of police time or resources and taking no more than two hours to process, then marijuana prohibition costs law enforcement a minimum of 2,568,000 man hours annually.

"Marijuana prohibition is clearly a waste of precious law enforcement resources and taxpayers dollars," Stroup summarized.

Stroup also noted that the increased enforcement of marijuana laws fails to serve as a deterrent for adolescent use. In fact, federal statistics note just the opposite. "As marijuana arrests rose throughout the 1990s, so did the number of adolescents reporting experimentation with marijuana," said Stroup, citing annual data from the University of Michigan Monitoring the Future study indicating rising adolescent marijuana use since 1992. "The fact that marijuana use among youth appears to be growing at a time when law enforcement is arresting record numbers of adult users confirms that marijuana prohibition is not an effective deterrent in marijuana consumption."

Since 1965 law enforcement has arrested approximately 12 million Americans on marijuana charges. (See data next page.)

Copies of the 1996 FBI data are available from the NORML national office.

1001 Connecticut Avenue, N.W., Suite 710
Washington, D.C. 20036
Tel. (202) 483-5500
Fax (202) 483-0057

Marijuana Arrests In The United States
State & Local Level, 1965-1996

                Total           %
                Arrests     Possession

1965:		18,815		*
1966:		31,119		*
1967:		61,843		*
1968:		95,870		*
1969:		118,903		*
1970:		188,903		*
1971:		225,828		*
1972:		292,179		*
1973:		420,700		*
1974:		445,600		*
1975:		416,100		*
1976:		441,100		*
1977:		457,600		86%
1978:		445,800		86%
1979:		391,600		87%
1980:		401,982		84%
1981:		400,329		86%
1982:		452,244		85%
1983:		403,454		83%
1984:		415,831		82%
1985:		451,138		83%
1986:		361,779		82%
1987:		378,709		83%
1988:		391,612		83%
1989:		398,977		79%
1990:		327,860		80%
1991:		283,700		79%
1992:		340,890		79%
1993:		380,399		82%
1994:		481,098		84%
1995:		588,963		86%
1996:		641,641		85%

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To the Editor,

Recent figures released in the FBI's Uniform Crime Report illustrate that America's "war on drugs" is nothing short of a war on marijuana smokers. According to the report, state and local law enforcement arrested nearly 642,000 individuals on marijuana charges in 1996. This arrest total is the highest number ever recorded by the FBI and indicates that one marijuana user is arrested every 49 seconds in America.

Marijuana arrests rose 80 percent since 1990 and now constitute 43 percent of all drug arrests. Of this record number of arrests, approximately 85 percent were for simple "possession." The remaining 15 percent were for "sale/manufacture," a category that includes all cultivation offenses - even those where marijuana was being grown for personal or medical use.

Yet, in spite of the significant increase in the enforcement of marijuana laws, recent surveys indicate that marijuana use is rising in popularity among adolescents. The fact that marijuana use is growing at the same time law enforcement officials are arresting record numbers of users clearly confirms that marijuana prohibition does not effectively deter marijuana consumption.

Statistics indicate that over one-third of the adult American population admits to experimenting with marijuana. Is it rational to continue a federal policy that would place all these individuals in jail?

(Your name)



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