Report: 240,000 Marijuana Possession Arrests In Washington In Last 25 Years


Andy Bronson/The Bellingham Herald
Renee Devan, right, takes down a phone number for Martin O. Nickerson of Northern Cross medical marijuana collective, as he sits in the back of a Bellingham Police Department vehicle, under arrest, in the alley behind the store, March 15, 2012

Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans Disproportionately Arrested; 25 Years of Arrests in WA Cost $300 Million or More 
With just three weeks remaining before Washington voters decide whether to make possession of up to an ounce of marijuana legal in their state, a new report — “240,000 Marijuana Arrests: Costs, Consequences, and Racial Disparities of Possession Arrests in Washington” — reveals that nearly a quarter of a million people have been arrested in Washington for marijuana possession since 1986.  Police made more than half of those marijuana arrests in just the last 10 years.

The study, based on FBI-UCR crime data, reports that from 2001 to 2010, 79 percent of the people arrested were 34 years or younger, and most people arrested were white. From 2001 to 2010, blacks, Latinos and Native Americans made up 14 percent of Washington’s residents, but they were 25 percent of the people arrested for marijuana possession. This is the first study to show arrests of Latinos in Washington. 
Other key findings include:
• Police made 129,000 marijuana possession arrests in just the last ten years.
• In Washington, blacks were arrested at 2.9 times the rate of whites. Latinos and Native Americans were arrested at 1.6 times the rate of whites.
• In the last 10 years, the arrests have cost $200 million to $300 million. 
• Marijuana possession arrests in Washington rose sharply over the past 25 years, from 4,000 in 1986 to 11,000 in 2010, totaling 240,000 arrests.
“U.S government studies consistently find that young whites use marijuana at higher rates than young blacks and Latinos,” said report co-author Harry Levine, a sociology professor at Queens College, City University of New York. “But police arrested young blacks and Latinos at higher rates than young whites. These possession arrests are expensive and unjust.”

Marijuana Arrest Research Project
Why have the mostly young blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans been arrested at higher rates than whites?  It is not because they use marijuana more.

“A single marijuana possession arrest creates a permanent criminal record easily found on the internet by employers, landlords, schools, credit agencies, licensing boards, and banks,” said Loren Siegel, Esq.  co-director of the Marijuana Arrest Research Project and one of the report’s authors. “A criminal record for the ‘drug crime’ of marijuana possession creates barriers to employment and education for anyone, including whites and the middle class.”
“Marijuana arrests are costly, do not reduce crime, create criminal records with serious and often life-long consequences, and take police from other crime fighting work,” said report co-author Jon B. Gettman, a criminal justice professor at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia. 
The report was prepared by the Marijuana Arrest Research Project which has produced studies of marijuana possession arrests in New York, California, and several major U.S. cities.
The report addresses issues to be affected by the upcoming election, when Washington voters will decide on I-502, an initiative that proposes to legally regulate marijuana sales by state-licensed stores and allow possession of up to an ounce of cannabis. Home marijuana cultivation would remain a felony under the plan; only a few marijuana producers would be licensed statewide.
Unfortunately, I-502, the initiative in question, would also generate arrests by creating a new crime, that of driving while over the active THC blood limit of five nanograms per milliliter (5 ng/ml). Under current Washington law, law enforcement must prove actual impairment if a driver takes a DUI-drugs case to court. Under I-502, impairment would no longer have to be proven; simply driving over the arbitrary limit would be per se proof of guilt.