Marijuana: One pot bust every 42 seconds, FBI stats show

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition has been one of the national organizations most active in promoting Amendment 64, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act. No surprise, then, that the group puts an election-oriented spin on just-released crime statistics from the FBI for the year 2011. According to LEAP, the data shows that one marijuana arrest is made every 42 seconds.

Moreover, the vast majority of these busts are for possession alone -- an issue a LEAP spokesman believes Amendment 64 would address.

Here are some general highlights of the FBI's "Persons Arrested" stats. They show, among other things, that more people were arrested in the U.S. for drug-related crimes during 2011 than for any other offense:
• Nationwide, law enforcement made an estimated 12,408,899 arrests in 2011. Of these arrests, 534,704 were for violent crimes, and 1,639,883 were for property crimes. (Note: the UCR Program does not collect data on citations for traffic violations.)

• The highest number of arrests were for drug abuse violations (estimated at 1,531,251 arrests), larceny-theft (estimated at 1,264,986), and driving under the influence (estimated at 1,215,077).

• The estimated arrest rate for the United States in 2011 was 3,991.1 arrests per 100,000 inhabitants. The arrest rate for violent crime (including murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault) was 172.3 per 100,000 inhabitants, and the arrest rate for property crime (burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson) was 531.3 per 100,000 inhabitants.

• Two-year arrest trends show violent crime arrests declined 4.9 percent in 2011 when compared with 2010 arrests, and property crime arrests decreased 0.1 percent when compared with the 2010 arrests.

• Arrests of juveniles for all offenses decreased 11.1 percent in 2011 when compared with the 2010 number; arrests of adults declined 3.6 percent.

• Over 74 percent (74.1) of the persons arrested in the nation during 2011 were males. They accounted for 80.4 percent of persons arrested for violent crime and 62.9 percent of persons arrested for property crime.

• In 2011, 69.2 percent of all persons arrested were white, 28.4 percent were black, and the remaining 2.4 percent were of other races.
When it comes to "arrests for drug abuse violations," the FBI provides the following graphic:As you can see, 81.8 percent of drug arrests are for possession alone. Additionally, 49.5 percent of drug arrests are for marijuana -- 43.3 percent for possession and 6.2 percent for sales or manufacturing. The total number of marijuana arrests in 2011 was around 750,000.

To the head of LEAP, former Baltimore narcotics cop and past Westword profile subject Neill Franklin, these numbers are scandalous.

Continue to read LEAP's take on the crime statistics. "Even excluding the costs involved for later trying and then imprisoning these people, taxpayers are spending between one and a half to three billion dollars a year just on the police and court time involved in making these arrests," Franklin says in a statement. "That's a lot of money to spend for a practice that four decades of unsuccessful policies have proved does nothing to reduce the consumption of drugs. Three states have measures on the ballot that would take the first step in ending this failed war by legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana. I hope they take this opportunity to guide the nation to a more sensible approach to drug use."

This last phrase echoes the selling points for Amendment 64 found on the website Marijuana Majority, which highlights statements made by celebrities, politicians and other notables about the need for drug-policy reform. Tom Angell is the man behind that site, as well as chief spokesperson for LEAP. When we chatted with him last week about Marijuana Majority, he stressed that Amendment 64 is both a local and national issue.

"For people outside of Colorado to support the Colorado initiative makes perfect sense," he told us, "because one state has to be the first state to spark a movement across the country and across the globe. People are waiting for this to happen."

He expands on this theme in a new comment he e-mailed us after the release of the FBI crime statistics.

"By voting to pass Amendment 64, Coloradans won't just be protecting adults in the Centennial State who choose to use marijuana from being arrested," he writes. "Passage of Amendment 64 will kick-start what is sure to be a continuing nationwide movement to change marijuana policies that currently lead to one of our neighbors being put in handcuffs every 42 seconds."

More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana: Law enforcement group rips dispensary seizure letters."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts