Everyone from NPR to the Houston Chronicle is abuzz about the study, "The War on Marijuana; The Transformation of the War on Drugs in the 1990s", done by The Sentencing Project, which shows that a renewed focus on low-level marijuana users resulted in arrests rising from 28% to 45% of total drug arrests from 1992 to 2002. Of the rise in total drug arrests, 80% of the increase came from marijuana arrests of mostly small, recreational users. The price for this is high: the report estimates about $4 billion a year is spent on arresting and prosecution. Think of the health insurance or decent housing that could buy!
Also (unsurprisingly, given the racism of the enforcement mechanisms), although blacks make up only 14 % of the population, they accounted for 30% of arrests, despite the fact that 74% of regular marijuana users are white:
"A Maryland study on marijuana enforcement observed that police officers knew where to go if they wished to make an easy drug arrest, and suggested that they could do so whenever they wished in certain neighborhoods These neighborhoods are those where drug use and selling is most likely to be in public spaces, allowing for easy apprehension. Research by criminologist Alfred Blumstein supports this point, observing that disproportionate arrest rates are due to a more dense police presence where blacks reside.The study also notes that possession cases generally receive longer sentences than trafficking cases. In fact, 24% of marijuana offenders in prison were found to have been first-time offenders with no weapons or trafficking issues.
And despite all this, use of weed has held relatively steady over the years, and NPR reported that approximately 47% of the general population has used it. From an anecdotal point of view, I can tell you I know a good number of folks who are regular smokers. Many are in their 40s and 50s, and all of them are taxpayers and productive human beings who have been smoking for anywhere from 10 to 35 years, and not one of them ever robbed a bank, raped a woman, or went mad. All of them live that part of their lives with a combination of martini-drinking casualness and furtive paranoia, and the idea of putting any of them in jail is not only outrageous, but daft. The fact that they cannot be open and truthful about it relegates them, in many ways, to the shadows in which women who had abortions live, except that being exposed as a person who once had an abortion doesn't put one at risk of jail time.
I'm not going to rant about the stupidity of our drug laws. Even the general public has gotten bored with marijuana as a scare tactic. But the report recommendations are extensive and include suggestions for a national dialogue on decriminalization, and at the very least, we need to heed them.