October 2008 Issue Number 6.

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This report reviews data on marijuana arrests in Massachusetts at the state, countly, and local levels. Also examined are data on marijuana and other drug use, marijuana-related drug treatment admissions referred by the criminal justice system, criminal justice system costs, and clearance levels for serious crimes in Massachusetts. The appendix of the report provides detailed data on marijuana arrests by local police agencies in Massachusetts.

Executive Summary

In 2006 there were 9,124 arrests for marijuana-related offenses in Massachusetts. Of these, or 86% were for possession (7,857), the rest were for sales (1,267). Marijuana arrests have been increasing over the last several years, for example arrests averaged 8,986 during the preceding three years.

Marijuana arrests in the United States increased 3% annually from 1994 to 2005. In Massachusetts marijuana arrests decreased by 3.5% per year during this same period.

From 1992 to 2006, the criminal justice system doubled its share of marijuana-related referrals for drug treatment services from 26.89% in 1992 to 52.28% in 2006. With the sole exception of 2002, the percentage referred by the criminal justice system has increased every year.

Marijuana use is more widely used in New England than in the rest of the United States. The prevalence of monthly marijuana use in New England is 33% higher than in the United States as a whole. Despite this relative popularity the total number of annual users of marijuana in Massachusetts has declined from 2003 to 2006, from 832,000 to 696,000 or from 15.45% to 12.91% of the population over age 12.

Marijuana arrests disproportionately affect young males. Over 60% of all marijuana possession arrests are males between the ages of 15 and 24. Including females in this age range, people between the ages of 15 and 24 comprise 70% of all marijuana possession arrests. The arrest rate for males age 15 to 19 is 1,371.38 per 100,000. The arrest rate for males age 20 to 24 is 1,005.95. Males age 15 to 19 comprised 7.22% of the male population in Massachusetts in 2006, but this age group accounts for 40.42% of all males arrested for marijuana possession.

Young adults aged 18 to 25 make up 39.16% of monthly marijuana users. Young adults ages 18 to 34 account for 52.34% of marijuana possession arrests. Adults 26 and older account for 50.12% of marijuana users. Adults 25 and older account for 27.89% of marijuana arrests.

A similar disparity exists with respect to race. Blacks account for 6.89% of the population in Massachusetts but account for 23% of marijuana possession arrests. The prevalence of marijuana use among blacks nationwide is 17% to 20% greater than among whites, but this does not account for their disproportionate share of marijuana possession arrests. The arrest rate for marijuana possession for whites in Massachusetts is 115.92 while the arrest rate for marijuana possession for blacks is 441.11.

The greatest marijuana possession arrest rate for blacks in Massachusetts is in Franklin County; the arrest rate for whites in Franklin is 150.52 but for blacks it is 10 times greater, 1,032.25 per 100,000. In Bristol County the arrest rate for marijuana possession for blacks is 772.34, in Barnstable 746.67, and in Berkshire 677.12. In every county in the state the arrest rate for blacks is significantly greater than for whites. For many of the counties in Massachusetts, the smaller the size of the black population the greater the arrest rate for blacks for marijuana possession.

Thirty-two local police agencies account for 60% of all the marijuana arrests in Massachusetts, including 6 State Police agencies and 2 University police stations. The five leading agencies providing the most marijuana arrests in the state are Boston (1,757), New Bedford (392), the State Police in Essex County (324), Springfield (246) and Worcester (241).

The total expense for the criminal justice system in Massachusetts in 2005 is $3.4 billion. Estimates of the cost of marijuana offenses (both possession and sales) in Massachusetts range from $43 to $213.6 million.

Marijuana law enforcement diverts law enforcement resources from protecting the public from violent and property related crimes. During 2006 Massachusetts police were able to clear 49.1% of murders, 29.3% of rapes, 22.9% of robberies, 45% of assaults, 9.9% of burglaries, 12.5% of larcenies, 8.9% of motor vehicle thefts, and 22.8% of these 7 crimes combined.

Marijuana Arrests in Massachusetts (PDF – 908KB)