This report provides an overview to a vast amount of data
reported in the Marijuana
Policy Almanac, available at http://www.drugscience.org/States/US/US_home.htm.
This almanac provides the largest collection of detailed
data about marijuana arrests in the United States ever released
to the public. It contains detailed data at the national,
state, county, and local agency level about marijuana arrests
and related topics, such as marijuana use, criminal justice
costs, and clearance rates for serious crimes. The Marijuana
Policy Almanac also contains individual summary reports for
each state, and rankings of states by penalties for marijuana
possession, marijuana arrest rates, and the number of marijuana
These data shed some light on the growing national and regional
debate over whether marijuana prohibition is a policy that
effectively delivers benefits that justify its human or fiscal
Specific findings include the following:
1) Nationally, there is little apparent relationship between
increasing marijuana arrests and rates of use.
- Marijuana arrests have nearly doubled from 1991
to 2009, increasing by 150% during the 1990s and increasing
steadily in recent years, producing an annualized change
of 6.56% per year during this period.
- Overall, levels
of marijuana use in the United States have remained fundamentally
unchanged during this period.
Population estimates of annual marijuana use, for example, have remained
relatively constant over the last five years at approximately
25 million individuals.
- From 2003 to 2007, the number
of annual marijuana arrests increased by 2.93% per year,
while the number of annual
marijuana users decreased by 0.21% per year.
- The overall marijuana arrest rate
of between 3% and 6% of users is not enough to represent
a meaningful deterrent.
2) There are wide disparities between states in both marijuana
arrest rates and the severity of penalties. These differences
bear little relationship to rates of use, while the penalty
structure actually serves as a price support for the illicit
- Thirteen states have decriminalized possession of small
amounts of marijuana, and Georgia mandates probation for
- However, 30 states, plus the District
of Columbia, have maximum penalties of six months to a
year in jail for possession
of about one ounce of marijuana. State law in Florida
provides for a maximum penalty of five years. For possession of two
ounces of marijuana, 18 states have maximum penalties
of one year, and 16 have maximum penalties of more than one
year, including maximum sentences of 10 years in Arkansas,
Georgia, and Oregon and seven years in Missouri.
penalty structure effectively demands that marijuana consumers
make multiple small purchases of marijuana
over time. This works to prop up the price of marijuana and benefits the illegal
- These laws, by making marijuana an attractive
commodity for small-scale sales, have created a substantial
in which teenagers sell marijuana to other teenagers, making marijuana
easily accessible to young people. According to the 2007
NSDUH, 742,932 youths aged 12 to 17 sold illegal drugs
in the preceding 12 months.
- The national marijuana arrest rate is 290 per 100,000.
The jurisdictions with the highest marijuana arrest rates
are the District of Columbia (677), New York (481), and Kentucky
(479). The states with the lowest are Vermont (149),
Montana (145), and Hawaii (119).
- While some decriminalized states, such as Maine
and Colorado, have high rates of marijuana use, others,
and Nebraska, have below-average rates of use.
- Some states,
including South Carolina and Missouri, have among the
highest arrest rates of marijuana users but
low levels of marijuana use, while Washington, D.C. has both
a high arrest rate and a high rate of use. Utah and
North Dakota have low levels of use and below-average arrest
rates, while states such as Alaska, Massachusetts and Montana have
low arrest rates and high levels of use.
3) Young people and African-Americans are disproportionately
affected by marijuana arrests.
- Males aged 15 to 24 account for 52% of all marijuana
arrests. While the national rate of marijuana possession
arrests is 248 per 100,000, the arrest rate for males
aged 15 to 19 is 1,911 per 100,000.
- While the marijuana-use
rate for African-Americans is only about 25% greater
than for whites, the marijuana possession
arrest rate for blacks is three times greater. This
is not a regional disparity, but is seen in every state
4) The costs of arresting marijuana users are substantial,
and raise serious questions about the cost effectiveness
of marijuana prohibition.
- Using the same method of calculation used by
the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy,
arrests cost state and local governments $10.3 billion
- Marijuana arrests represent 6% of all arrests.
In many states, they represent the fifth, sixth, or seventh
- The clearance rate (i.e. the percentage of
crimes solved by arrest) for murder, rape, robbery, assault,
larceny, and motor vehicle theft was 26% in 2007, meaning
that no one is arrested for three quarters of these serious
crimes. In this environment, time and resources spent
on roughly 850,000 marijuana arrests per year represent a significant
- In California, decriminalization of
marijuana possession saved taxpayers $857 million in
2006 (details in the
California state report (PDF)).
Read the full report: Marijuana
Arrests in the United States (2007) (PDF
This work was funded by a generous grant from the Marijuana
Policy Project Foundation.