Laws criminalizing marijuana possession have been softening across the nation, and the data on the consequences are starting to come in.
In 2010, then-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation downgrading simple marijuana possession from a criminal offense to an infraction. The law resulted in arrests for marijuana possession dropping 86 percent, from 54,000 in 2010 to 7,800 in 2011, the Criminal Justice Statistics Center reported.
Arrests for other drugs, such as heroin, cocaine, and un-prescribed pills, declined by 23 percent among youths in 2011 from 2010, a rate falling four times faster than for adults (down six percent), the report said.
Whites were the only racial group to show an increased rate of drug arrests. African Americans were still twice as likely to be arrested for drugs (including 2.6 times more likely for marijuana possession) than whites. The report notes whites are now the second-most drug-arrest-prone race, with levels higher than for Latinos and Asians.
IMPACT ON CRIME
Marijuana reform does not appear to have affected other crimes, the report concluded.
More than three-fourths of California’s dwindling marijuana possession arrests are now under the age of 18, up from one-third in 2010, the report said.
Last November, Washington state and Colorado also dramatically changed their marijuana laws, legalizing possession of the drug for people aged 21 and over.
The states expect to reap some $600 million annually in marijuana tax revenues for schools, roads and other projects, reported Rolling Stone.
“This is the beginning of the end of prohibition,” said Norman Stamper, a former Seattle police chief who campaigned for legalization.
“This is the beginning of the end of prohibition”
Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Alliance, called the Washington and Colorado initiatives passage “a watershed moment.”
“People are standing up and saying that the drug war has gone too far,” he said.
In Seattle, the mayor, city attorney and every member of the City Council supported the initiative to legalize marijuana use.
But according to Mike Males of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, California’s downgrading of marijuana possession to an infraction “is likely to prove much more effective in reducing simple marijuana arrests than Washington’s and Oregon’s marijuana legalization initiatives passed this year.”
Because those under 21 will continue to be arrested for marijuana possession, arrests in those states will fall by less than 50 percent, Males notes.
Further, despite the voters’ decisions, the Obama administration has shown no sign of backing down on its full-scale assault on pot growers and distributors, reported Rolling Stone magazine.
President Obama pledged to go easy on medical marijuana, now legal in 18 states.
However, Rolling Stone said the Obama administration launched more raids on state-sanctioned pot dispensaries during than did former President George W. Bush. The federal government “has threatened to prosecute state officials who oversee medical marijuana as if they are drug lords,” the magazine said.
“Enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged,” the federal Drug Enforcement Agency announced in November.
At a congressional hearing, DEA chief Michele Leonhart, a Bush appointee, refused to concede any distinction between the heroin and pot, reported Rolling Stone. “All illegal drugs are bad,” he said.