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Police Arrested Almost 750,000 People For Marijuana In 2012


marijuana arrest prison drug drugsThe FBI Uniform Crime Report for 2012 is in.  Once again, police arrested almost 750 thousand marijuana consumers, sellers, and growers, despite the passage of legalization in two states, decriminalization in fifteen states, and medical marijuana in twenty states.

The data, analyzed by 420RADIO News, indicate that 749,825 people were arrested for marijuana within the category of “drug abuse violations” reported to the FBI.  Of those, 658,231 were arrested for possession, making up about seven out of eight pot arrests in this country.

These numbers are virtually the same from 2011, when 757,969 reported marijuana arrests took place.  Previously during the Obama Administration, there were 853,838 arrests in 2010 and 858,408 arrests in 2009.  Analysis shows that the great decline from 2010 to 2011 could be attributed largely to the decriminalization of marijuana possession in California under then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was pressured into it by the political force of positive polls for the Prop 19 legalization campaign.  Without those California declines, the arrest totals have remained steady during this administration.  It will be interesting to note the numbers one year from now when decriminalization passed in Massachusetts and legalization passed in Washington and Colorado in 2012 will factor into the arrest totals for 2013.

Members of the world’s top organization of former cops and prosecutors who support drug legalization, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), spoke out about how the focus on the Drug War arrests have undermined public safety.

“These numbers represent a tremendous loss of human potential. Each one of those arrests is the story of someone who may suffer a variety of adverse effects from their interaction with the justice system,” said LEAP executive director Neill Franklin, a cop for 34 years. “Commit a murder or a robbery and the government will still give you a student loan. Get convicted for smoking a joint and you’re likely to lose it. This is supposed to help people get over their drug habit?”

“Every time a police officer makes an arrest for drugs, that’s several hours out of his or her day not spent going after real criminals. As the country has been investing more and more of its resources into prosecuting drug ‘crime,’ the rate of unsolved violent crime has been steadily increasing. Where are our priorities here?” asked retired lieutenant commander Diane Goldstein, another LEAP speaker.

The data show Goldstein’s concern is real.  There were more arrests for drug possession (1,276,099) than the FBI’s tally for “other assaults” (1,199,476).  There were more arrests for marijuana possession (658,231) than for the violent crimes of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault (521,196).

While violent crime is down overall, putting police resources toward so-called “drug abuse violations” can’t help but divert them from solving the violent crimes that do take place.  According to the data for clearance (the rate of arrests versus how many offenses are reported), less than half of all violent crimes and less than one-fifth of all property crimes led to an arrest.

  • Violent Crime – 46.8 percent;
    • Murder and Non-Negligent Manslaughter – 62.5 percent;
    • Forcible Rape – 40.1 percent;
    • Robbery – 28.1 percent;
    • Aggravated Assault – 55.8 percent;
  • Property Crime – 19 percent;
    • Burglary – 12.7 percent;
    • Larceny-Theft – 22 percent;
    • Motor Vehicle Theft – 11.9 percent;
    • Arson – 20.4 percent;

Source: National Cannabis Coalitionmake a donation


About Author

Executive Director: Russ Belville has been active in Oregon marijuana reform since 2005, when he was elected second-in-command of the state affiliate, Oregon NORML. After four years with Oregon NORML, Russ was hired by National NORML in 2009, working as Outreach Coordinator and hosting the NORML Daily Audio Stash podcast until 2012. Since then, Russ launched the 420RADIO marijuana legalization network and is the host of The Russ Belville Show, a live daily marijuana news talk radio program. Russ is also a prolific writer, with over 300 articles posted online and in print in HIGH TIMES, Huffington Post, Alternet, The Weed Blog, Marijuana Politics, and more.


  1. I was attempting to walk in the shoes of people on the other side, and so thought:
    Some people don’t mind fracking on their property because they are getting paid to lease the land to the frackers. Some people don’t care how much money there is to be made, they know how dangerous and toxic fracking is to the environment.

    Some people don’t mind patients having access to cannabis, but they think their “environment” and back yard will be poisoned by an inflow of potheads, other drug businesses, societal laziness, etc. These people don’t care how much money can be made off of legalization, they think pot is harmful and don’t want it in their backyard.

    I’m trying to see every side of the argument in order to figure out how to combat it. My comparison may have been clumsy, but that’s all I was trying to do.

  2. The NIMBY argument doesn’t translate one iota between cannabis and fracking. One is natural and primarily affects the person making the choice. The other is unholy, unnatural, and devastates the environment, affecting everybody near that aquifer – not just the person making the choice.

  3. Can you believe the tax rates? I pay 7% for my MMJ, which is not bad, but 25% in Colorado? C’mon! It does seem the tax argument is biting us in the ass. States are grasping at whatever revenue they can get (not from the corporations, of course). It should just be taxed like alcohol, perhaps with a little extra for the first three years to help with economic and societal transitions.

    And the government made the Post Office fund pensions for, what was it, 10 years in advance? Perhaps they want the windfall from cannabis taxes, but I think they also might want to tax it out of business. If the tax is high enough then, yes, the black market will still exist and then the naysayers will say the experiment didn’t work.

    Since I would not want fracking done in my neighborhood, I guess we have to try to understand the same argument for cannabis. In the end, the neighborhoods who embrace dispensaries will reap the most economic benefit. We are starving for new business here in New Mexico, just like many other states. Intel just laid-off (or “re-positioned”) hundreds of workers at its plant in Rio Rancho, being replaced close by with low-paying call center jobs. Cities and neighborhoods can either get with the times or fall further behind.

    I think the people who use the argument that we have to have new laws and ordinances just because of a small percentage of cannabis users who act like “idiots” would probably use just about any excuse to do so. Just because there are people who drink and get drunk out there doesn’t mean we have to make more laws about alcohol. Doesn’t make sense. (Now I’ve gone and written a book… sorry :)

  4. There is still plenty of dispensaries out here, it was never out of control, but as I said sometimes people act like idiots just because they think they can, and then the people living in those neighborhoods suddenly get a “not in my neighborhood,” attitude. Then their local poiticians either find ways to skirt the medical marijuanas by passing all sorts of ordinances, or they see a possible “tax windfall” and go all crazy about taxing it. Kinda like the one place in L.A. that had a tv show for awhile. The local area decided to pass a law that said they had to pay a years worth of taxes….in advance, in order to stay in operation. I always caution people about using the whole “imagine all the tax revenue that states will gain,” because too much of that also creates a new black market.

  5. It looks like the politics of cannabis may get really ugly for awhile (poor Colorado too). I’m so sorry that you do not have the accessibility that you need to get your medicine — I know how fortunate I am that I can currently get mine, but I wonder how long I will be able to afford it. Even with the accessibility that I have, it still seems to be a hit or miss as to whether the medicine is strong enough for me, but hopefully I will eventually learn how to make better choices.

    One dispensary I use is a delivery service and I’ve found that they are a little more flexible and, in this case, more knowledgeable as opposed to the store front dispensaries. (I was actually able to return a purchase once, but I haven’t asked to do it again.)

    Is it only in Los Angeles that there are so many dispensaries? I mean, how did it get so out of control there? Or is it as out of control as the news says?

  6. Well, on a country wide level, I think we are winning on that to some degree. That’s not the problem, the problem is on the local levels. Here in California people voted for legalizing medical marijuana, but, as soon as dispensaries started opening up, local citizens, city councils, etc. started to decided that although they wanted medical marijuana to be legal they also decided that they didn’t want it to be accessible, at least not in their neighborhoods and started making all sorts of legal ordinances, taxes, and laws that made it almost impossible to open and operate a dispensary. Now, many have skirted that by running delivery services that have no store front, but that also increased the cost, or at least cut down on a lot of the incentives (great deals etc.) that the store front dispensaries offered.

  7. I’m hoping that any negative information that is thrown out into the world about cannabis will be OVERWHELMED by the positive information that accompanies it. Don’t you think that’s true now?

  8. Oh I totally agree, I’m just talking about how some people’s ( those that get arrested with pot on them because of unrelated crimes) behavior causes huge problems with perception. As for young people having fun, I have no problem with that but do it in a way that doesn’t bring outside unwanted attention to themselves, especially when we are finally getting attention turning on this issue in a positive way.

  9. People arrested that are carrying weed are probably also carrying alcohol, aspirin or Tylenol, caffeine, and sugar on them too. Along with a smartphone and money. Just saying…

    However, I know what you mean about some dispensary customers. I assume it’s worse in California, as it is a very mature market. I look at it this way… No matter what cannabis consumers look like, or how we act, cannabis is a medicine that could be used by all, just like aspirin. Did your doctor tell you to take a low-dose aspirin every day? I say, sure, but augment or replace that with some cannabis. Since we will always have people who drink too much and act like idiots, I assume the same will be said about some cannabis users.

    I think cigarette smokers have become more responsible, and cannabis users will too. I try to teach by example. Sounds like you do too. But let the young people have their fun… I’m okay with that.

  10. More money going to the drug war, and less toward solving violent crimes. Probably much easier to solve drug crimes than violent crimes too. More arrests makes it seem like they’re doing their job…

  11. When are we going to learn? I know Obama said to back off of States who’ve legalized cannabis as well as those abiding by State Law. Obviously that’s NOT taking with the officers presently employed across the country. They still jump all over the “Low Hanging Fruit” instead of solving REAL CRIMES! It makes them look better to their bosses by having a higher Arrest rate. They receive AWARDS for RUINING SOMEONES LIFE over a small amount of marijuana and SOMETIMES just with paraphernalia. It’s RIDICULOUS!!!

  12. I am all for legalization, BUT…you must remember that numbers are just that, and it is still against Federal law, so Officers are obligated to do their job. Secondly, arrests for pot often come from other activities (Getting to the point about numbers just being numbers). Most of the time people are arrested for pot it is because they were doing other activities/behaviors that led to the police being called/people pulled over, and searched in the first place. One of the biggest obstacles to peoples perceptions of pot and it’s use comes from that very point. Here in California (I am a medical marijauna cardholder) I witness people who have just come out of dispensaries, acting like idiots all the time. I would just like to see some articles now and then that instead of going after the law, would come out and tell people that use marijuana to be responsible and not act like idiots. It hurts efforts to legalize everyday. People who commit other crimes (unrelated to marijuana) are often lumped into these statistics because they had marijuana on them the time they committed them and that is a shame. So please people, help to legalize, but to do so we are selfs must act like responsible adults as well.

  13. Cant hide the truth.
    I had 2 skateboards stolen and 2 bicycles stolen
    I thought police were too busy writing tickets for jaywAlking
    Seems they were actually filling out petty arrest forms.
    Priorities? Violent crimes don’t get solved when fodder is available
    Everytime LEO arrest someone for drugs a real criminal is getting away with murder.
    They had a nice little racket going and they will protect those assets

  14. Art author The Marijuana Diet on

    When I grew up I was taught that America is a free country, the leader for the world. But year after year we are falling behind other countries who are freer then we are. These arrests show how ignorant our leaders are, they should be ashamed of themselves and voted out of office and forced to get a real job.

  15. I find it odd that, under Violent Crime, forcible rape and aggravated assault are separate categories.

  16. I wonder what the total cost of that is? Police, attorney, courts, lost wages, insurance costs, lost jobs etc?

    $10,000 per person?

  17. I thought Kevin Sabet said no one gets arrested for marijuana??? His book claims thats a myth!

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