U.S. Marijuana Arrests Outnumber Those for Violent Crimes

Thursday, October 13, 2016
(photos: Bruce Bennett, Elijah Nouvelage--Getty Images)


By Timothy Williams, New York Times


Arrests for possessing small amounts of marijuana exceeded those for all violent crimes last year, a new study has found, even as social attitudes toward the drug have changed and a number of cities and states have legalized its use or decriminalized small quantities.


And a disproportionate number of those arrested are African-Americans, who smoke marijuana at rates similar to whites but are arrested and prosecuted far more often for having small amounts for personal use, according to the study. The arrests can overwhelm court systems.


Dianne Jones, 45, who was arrested in New Orleans in 2014 on charges of having a small bag of marijuana, spent 10 days in jail because she could not put up a $2,500 bond. She was able to get enough money together only after her daughter sold the family’s television set at a pawnshop for $200.


Later, when Jones, who is African-American, was unable to pay court-ordered fees and fines, a judge issued a warrant for her arrest. She said the warrant was dismissed only after a community group for which she is a volunteer raised the remaining $155 of the $834 she owed the court.


With marijuana use on the rise, law enforcement agencies made 574,641 arrests last year for small quantities of the drug intended for personal use, according to the report (pdf), which was released Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch. The marijuana arrests were about 13.6 percent more than the 505,681 arrests made for all violent crimes, including murder, rape and serious assaults.


The report, which advocates the decriminalization of small quantities of illegal drugs intended for personal use, found that while whites are more likely than blacks to use illicit drugs — including marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines and prescription drugs for nonmedical purposes — black adults were more than 2 1/2 times as likely to be arrested.


In terms of marijuana possession, black adults were more than four times as likely to be arrested as white adults in the 39 states in which sufficient data was available, according to the report.


To Learn More:

Every 25 Seconds: The Human Toll of Criminalizing Drug Use in the United States (by Human Rights Watch and American Civil Liberties Union) (pdf)

Despite Spread of Acceptance of Legal Marijuana, Arrests Rise for First Time in 6 Years (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Steve Straehley, AllGov)

As Marijuana Legalization Spreads in Some Parts of U.S., Some States Use Federal Grants to Crack Down Harder (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)

Black and White Americans Use Marijuana at Same Rate, but Blacks Far More Likely to be Arrested (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)


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