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NORML Releases Most Comprehensive Analysis Of US Marijuana Arrest Data To Date
March 15, 2005 8:37 AM   Subscribe

NORML Releases "Most Comprehensive Analysis Of US Marijuana Arrest Data To Date"

Among the reports' findings: * The enforcement of state and local marijuana laws annually costs US taxpayers an estimated $7.6 billion, approximately $10,400 per arrest. * While adult African Americans account for only 8.8% of the US population and 11.9% of annual marijuana users, they comprise 23% of all marijuana possession arrests in the United States.
posted by trharlan (33 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Leagalize it, tax the govt grown shit or grow yer own.
Stop the failed "war on drugs" already.
posted by stevejensen at 8:46 AM on March 15, 2005


Their numbers all sound accurate to me, but it's still hard to take this particularly seriously when it's a study done by the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws.
posted by Simon! at 8:47 AM on March 15, 2005


Another vote for ending this waste of time and money.
posted by odinsdream at 8:48 AM on March 15, 2005


I have actually had some luck debating with people who passively lean Republican when using arguments like "do you realize how much of your tax money it takes to put these [law breakers] in jail, in addition to the cost to the economy due to their removal from the workforce?"
posted by MillMan at 8:53 AM on March 15, 2005


I'd sure love to see an official defense of our marijuana policy. Most people I talk to-- including evangelical right-wingers, whom I rarely agree on anything-- agree that the war on marijuana specifically, if not the war on drugs generally, is a misguided waste of time, money, and effort.

And yet it is extremely rare for any well-situated policymaker to acknowledge reality and call for the end to the charade.
posted by norm at 8:58 AM on March 15, 2005


I share Simon!'s concern about any "comprehensive analysis" that comes from a particular side of a controversial issue. Their figures may be completely accurate, but will be marginalized for that reason.

That said, spending even $1 in furtherance of the criminalization of marijuana is 99 cents too much, imho. (I'm willing to donate a penny to any cause).
posted by pardonyou? at 8:59 AM on March 15, 2005


Doubters, pray tell -- who should come up with such a story? and what would their interest be in it? Do you guys live in a world where people do things disinterestedly? Seriously, I'm curious.
posted by clevershark at 9:05 AM on March 15, 2005


I share Simon!'s concern about any "comprehensive analysis" that comes from a particular side of a controversial issue. Their figures may be completely accurate, but will be marginalized for that reason.


How odd that this should be your concern. I guess I'll be much more suspicious about a study on race relations offered by the NAACP, or an advocacy for eldercare by the AARP. My point being that just because you recognize that a special interest group has a policy position doesn't mean it isn't right.
posted by norm at 9:06 AM on March 15, 2005


we can't afford this ... period
posted by pyramid termite at 9:17 AM on March 15, 2005


The racism issue is what really does it for me. On any given night, there are millions more Whites using drugs then blacks (and by %), and yet blacks represent a majority of jail time. It's apalling.
posted by chaz at 9:18 AM on March 15, 2005


Kudos to NORML for refreshing honesty in how they use "possession" counts. Many pro-liberalizers, but not NORML in this instance, rest a great deal of their argument on the alleged inhumanity of lengthy sentences and extensive enforcement efforts for "possession."

NORML, in not doing so, appears to recognize that the vast majority those locked up for "possession" are drug dealers are on their first offense or getting a plea bargain because of proof problems in the case, or people picked up on gang-loitering or other such non-drug-related conduct who are dumb enough to be doing their thing with a joint in their pocket.
posted by MattD at 9:19 AM on March 15, 2005


While I can understand skepticism directed at a biased organization presenting the figures, I am thinking that these statistics and this analysis are among the things the government will not fund. It is sort of like the official policy of not counting the Iraqi dead. If the government fears the truth, then they simply will not fund any study which may present that truth.

So we are left with the work of NORML. If the government would like to fund a study to refute these results, I would certainly welcome it.
posted by flarbuse at 9:45 AM on March 15, 2005


it's still hard to take this particularly seriously when it's a study done by the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Surely, you'd rather get the figures from an unbiased source, like the government?

If the government would like to fund a study to refute these results, I would certainly welcome it.

Right, lets through more good money after bad. Uh huh. Screw the damn studies already, there have been enough. Its high time we got tough on the war on drugs. Fire the damn jerks that can't legislate in a sane manner.
posted by Goofyy at 9:58 AM on March 15, 2005


Hooray for smaller government!
posted by unsupervised at 10:04 AM on March 15, 2005


How odd that this should be your concern ... My point being that just because you recognize that a special interest group has a policy position doesn't mean it isn't right.

What's odd about it? I hope NORML's figures are correct. My point was simply that the results will be marginalized by opponents because they came from NORML. Which is unfortunate. But ignoring that reality is both stupid and disingenuous (would you give the same deference to a statistical analysis of abortion from Right to Life?)
posted by pardonyou? at 10:18 AM on March 15, 2005


Doubters, pray tell -- who should come up with such a story? and what would their interest be in it? Do you guys live in a world where people do things disinterestedly? Seriously, I'm curious. etc.

I think that there are other orgs that might be taken more seriously even if they have an axe to grind. A Brookings Inst. study saying the same things, for instance, would look substantially more creditable. The analogy to the NAACP is not the same because there should be no institutional barriers to discussing this as public policy in the way that there are to discussing racism. To put it another way, I think that the nature of the prohibition against discussing marijuana laws and that against discussing racism are of two different kinds.

The real question for me, and I just may not know enough about this, is why none of the major public policy institutes on the right or the left have taken this up in any serious way. I know that there are several Cato papers on legalization, but they are not exactly mainstream. I suspect that it has to do with a combination of the quasi-religious objection to drugs in general, and the fear that rational discussion will be painted as being soft on crime.
posted by OmieWise at 10:43 AM on March 15, 2005


Looking for a more disinterested (less interested?) source on this subject, every year The Economist does a state of the drug war analysis, along with a plea for sanity and legalization.

Unfortunately, most of the articles on there are restricted to subscribers, but here's one from 2001.

The background article with links to a whole slew of support articles (complete with statistics) is here. Unfortunately, all those support links are to subscription only. I really should renew.

Here are some choice leads from some of the articles, though:

LITTLE by little, Canada is groping towards a distinctive approach to drugs, one that focuses on harm reduction rather than the repression favoured by the United States. The federal government is mulling over a bill to decriminalise possession of marijuana. North America's first trial of heroin maintenance—giving addicts free heroin on condition that they accept treatment—got under way on February 10th in Vancouver.…

IMPRISONMENT is unlikely to clinch the war against drugs. What other weapons are there? Education for the young is one possibility, although its record is discouraging: one recent report complains that large amounts of public funds...continue to be allocated to prevention activities whose effectiveness is unknown or known to be limited.”…

IF YOU want to see money thrown at a problem to no good effect, you need look no further than America’s war on drugs. The federal government will spend roughly $18.5 billion on drug-control policies this year, and over $19 billion in 2001; state and local governments annually pitch in another $22 billion or so. By comparison, the entire Justice Department will have a budget of about $21 billion this year.…

THE most conspicuous victim of the war on drugs has been justice, especially in America, where law enforcement and the legal system have taken the brunt of the harm. But all over the world there are human victims too: the drug users jailed to punish them for the equivalent of binge drinking or smoking two packs a day—except that their habit is illegal. Many emerge from prison more harmed, and more harmful, than when they go in.…

BY ANY reasonable measure, America’s war on drugs is a disaster. At home, ferocious mandatory sentencing laws are the main reason for the country’s huge prison population. Almost one in four of the country’s 2m prisoners are there for drug offences, with only a limited chance of becoming productive members of society when they are released (see article).…

SHOULD the ultimate goal be to put drugs on a par with tobacco and alcohol? That would mean legalising both possession and trade (one makes no sense without the other), setting restrictions on access that reflect a drug's relative danger, and insisting on quality controls. Many people understandably recoil at such a prospect.…

Damned hippy pinkos.
posted by the_savage_mind at 11:15 AM on March 15, 2005


How quick do you think that NORML would get the legal smackdown (think of the children! in the name of the children!) if there was a credible chance they were lying.

Questioning the source and not the information the source provides just tells me you feel you are too stupid to protect yourself from points of view you might not want to agree with. I don't even know you, but in the spirit of American Enterprise and Glory I must believe you are smart enough and gosh-darn it, strong enough, to expose yourself to information.

Please, believe in yourself! You are not as stupid as you think you are!
posted by 31d1 at 11:49 AM on March 15, 2005


I'm waiting for the Bush adminstration to release a report that will describe, in detail, the failure of the drug war.
posted by iamck at 11:53 AM on March 15, 2005


I know conviction data is sometimes hard to come by, but spreading the cost of incarceration ($3.1B out of $7.6B = 40% of total) across every arrest to come up with that $10400 figure is just lame.

$7.653B / $10,400 = 730769 arrests.

But there were only around 62000 convictions, so $7.653B - $3.1B = $4.553B, and assuming that was evenly distributed would give you get ($4.553B/730769) = $6230.42 per arrest, and then the $3.1B pays for every other drug-related convict in prison that year, new or old.

$10400 - $6230.42 = $4169.58, so they jacked up the cost per arrest by 67% by spreading the incarceration costs and making each arrest look 67% more wastefully expensive.

But even if $6230 is the real cost per arrest regardless of conviction, where the hell is all that money going? Still sounds expensive as fuck, don't it?

Well, remember, I got that number from the combined cost of police and courts, divided by the number of arrests. The annual police and court costs were $3.7B and $853M respectively, according to NORML, so that's $5063 per arrest in police costs, and $1167 per arrest in court costs.

$5063 sounds like a lot to arrest one pot head, no? Where'd that number come from? Where do these $3.7B, $853M, $3.1B cost estimates come from? Oh, I see [pdf], they're using the ONDCP's 1997 "maximum costs estimate" technique where you take the total amount of money spent by each department, and you multiply those numbers by the percentage of total arrests or total incarcerations that were (in this case) marijuana-related. So every arrest costs whatever the total spent by law enforcement agencies divided by the total number of arrests is - or around $5063.

The court costs estimate is even funnier, because it's the total amount spent by the government on the court system, divided by 2 since the court system handles criminal and civil cases, and then divided by the number of arrests.

By this logic, if the cops would frivolously arrest and release more people, that $10,400 number would go down. I don't think the methodology was ever intended to represent costs at a "per arrest" resolution, but basing divisions of cost estimates on arrest proportions was a bad idea in the first place.

So here's the kicker: NORML is using the goverment's bad methodology, which was designed to sneakily jack up the perceived cost of drugs on society, in order to sneakily jack up the perceived cost of the drug war on society.

They deserve each other.
posted by techgnollogic at 12:03 PM on March 15, 2005


the vast majority those locked up for "possession" are drug dealers are on their first offense or getting a plea bargain because of proof problems in the case

Got a reference? Or are you just pulling "facts" out of the air (or your ass)?

Leagalize it, tax the govt grown shit or grow yer own.

I'm sure I'm more conspiracy-minded than most, but I think it's that last part of your imperative that is the problem. People grow only for themselves = no profit for RJR (not to mention Pfizer, Eli Lilly, etc.).
posted by mrgrimm at 12:19 PM on March 15, 2005


I doubt it's possible for any politician to seriously attempt legalization. The late night comics go nuts over just about anything, the comedy goldmine would be like a gift from above for them, and they of course are just a reflection of social norms. Quickest way to lose all credibility for any politico? Hard to think of anything better than advocating pot legalization.

I'm really wondering if it's possible for America especially to make any kind of major change like this anymore. There seems to be some sort of static state that's set in where anything significant anyone attempts to do will be thwarted by their polar opposite. Everyone and every cause seems to have an opposite somewhere in the country that's ready, willing, and able to jump up and stop anything from changing.
posted by scheptech at 12:39 PM on March 15, 2005


Everyone and every cause seems to have an opposite somewhere in the country that's ready, willing, and able to jump up and stop anything from changing.

I wouldn't be so pessimistic. I think you certainly could have said the same thing about the U.S. in the '50s, and look at some of the progress we've made since then (mostly in regard to race relations).

I honestly believe it's a generational thing. All that lead paint the boomers were exposed to was a baaad thing. (Partially just kidding). All it takes is critical mass. With the (hopefully) expansive freedom of info that the next generation will be exposed to, I can't imagine they'll keep propping up this waste of money and energy.

I'd be willing to make a long bet that recreational use of marijuana is legalized by 2025. However, I have no money with which to wager. I spent it all on drugs.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:46 PM on March 15, 2005


I wouldn't be so pessimistic

Well I hope you're right, but back in alchohol prohibition days it was possible to get the law enacted, try it for a few years, and ditch it all within a single generation. The anti-pot thing has been going on since before WW2.

It just seems to me that a difference now is there's whole huge numbers of people whose livelihood depends on representing special interests of every type and these folks are so well educated, experienced and well-entrenched at what they do, and the whole of society has become so legalistic that there's almost no chance for anything significant to get off the ground anymore.

Not suggesting there's really an organized conspiracy (is there?) but, just as an example, how many careers in justice would be ended if all of a sudden there were no pot laws? Someone mentioned above that half the budget is for drug enforcement and most of that is gonna be salaries.
posted by scheptech at 1:28 PM on March 15, 2005


I doubt it's possible for any politician to seriously attempt legalization.

4,914 people in my congressional district voted for R. Edward Forchion (aka NJWEEDMAN.com) on November 2, 2004, running for the US Marijuana Party on a platform with nothing but marijuana legalization; compare that to Libertarian Frank Orland in the same district with 976 votes. Longtime incumbent Republican Jim Saxton (known mostly for his good record on the environment) beat Democrat Herb Conaway 195,000-105,000. I think that makes Ed Forchion's run a pretty strong statement. (I was one of the 4,914.)

I think there is more than enough support out there for legalization, but it's one of many things that has been kept out of any public debate, and so it looks untouchable. It just needs to be dragged into the discourse.
posted by graymouser at 1:54 PM on March 15, 2005


So here's the kicker: NORML is using the goverment's bad methodology, which was designed to sneakily jack up the perceived cost of drugs on society, in order to sneakily jack up the perceived cost of the drug war on society.

techgnollogic, if the government attests to the accuracy of their numbers, then those numbers are fair game. If ONDCP considers their numbers valid to scare us with our perception of the cost of drugs on society, then surely they must be considered valid when they are used to argue against their cost to society.
posted by krash2fast at 2:05 PM on March 15, 2005


Norml is charity #7981 under the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) so all government employees can donate from paychecks if they so please.

Might not be listed in the booklet that gov't and state employees get to look through once a year; but they are registered. Express your opinion with a few bucks a month.

Marijuana is a business at both ends. Legalization is not going to occur; particularly with the nation becoming (like it or not) more rightist in nature. Certainly NOT a vote getting topic for a politician to go near.
posted by buzzman at 2:09 PM on March 15, 2005


the_savage_mind : " Looking for a more disinterested (less interested?) source on this subject, every year The Economist does a state of the drug war analysis, along with a plea for sanity and legalization.

"Unfortunately, most of the articles on there are restricted to subscribers"


The main survey published that year, can be accessed.
posted by Gyan at 2:09 PM on March 15, 2005


Damn. thanks Gyan. Missed that somehow.
posted by the_savage_mind at 2:23 PM on March 15, 2005


techno, thanks for the reconfigured numbers, it is appreciated. Still, I think it would be hard to argue that the cost to society in terms of marijuana use can be justified by even the reduced numbers.

One question about arrests/convictions, doesn't it take a certain amount of arrests to get convictions? I believe that the police often arrest a large amount of people and use their evidence to convict "bigger fish"-- which they wouldn't be able to do without all those other arrests. So I think showing the cost per arrest does have some value.
posted by chaz at 2:33 PM on March 15, 2005


krash2fast: I don't disagree that the ONDCP's numbers and methodology are "fair game" to be treated as accurate. The problem is NORML isn't playing fair with those numbers. I think the way NORML distributes the cost of incarceration across each individual arrest is definitely wrong because it doesn't translate into anything. It doesn't convey any meaning and only serves to inflate the "cost of a marijuana arrest," which is already misleadingly represented.

The problem with NORML using these numbers this way is that the ONDCP uses these figures to represent a portion of the "cost" that society incurs due to illegal drug users. So NORML is picking and choosing figures that support their argument, and disavowing the rest of the report. And even if you think it's fair or honest for NORML to only accept portions of the ONDCP report and methodology as source material for NORML's report, the ONDCP never took that estimate to a "cost per arrest" resolution the way NORML has. ONDCP used the proportion of arrests as a metric to estimate the proportion of Law Enforcement's budgets directed towards those crime areas, they did not try to produce any kind of "cost per arrest" estimate. What I'm saying is the big $3.1B, $853M, $3.7B numbers are what ONDCP's methodology produces, but the "per arrest" breakdown is wholly NORML's and very misleading, especially when the $3.1B Corrections cost is distributed per arrest.

So if you exclude the corrections costs, and go with the $6230 per arrest estimate I produced earlier, which I think is a fairer way of estimating those costs, then all you're still really saying is that the government scores 1 marijuana arrest for every $6230 it spends, and that's ineffecient and we can do it cheaper! So NORML is arguing to make the drug war sound financially inefficient, which it might be. But even then, by that methodology, it's no more inefficient than any other crime-fighting effort, since that $6230 is the same for all arrests (I think). And that figure includes the costs of everything beneficial the police do that doesn't incur an arrest. I don't think "arrests" are a very good metric. Either way it's not a very good argument for legalization, since it could be made for every crime.
posted by techgnollogic at 4:49 PM on March 15, 2005


How quick do you think that NORML would get the legal smackdown (think of the children! in the name of the children!) if there was a credible chance they were lying.

NORML is free to lie all they want to, as is anyone else (Unless if falls into the catagory of libel or slander, which this does not).
posted by delmoi at 5:55 PM on March 15, 2005


I doubt it's possible for any politician to seriously attempt legalization. The late night comics go nuts over just about anything, the comedy goldmine would be like a gift from above for them, and they of course are just a reflection of social norms.

Oh yeah, Jay Leno who makes a joke about his band-leader being a pot head (and smoking in the studio) like every other show is really going to be a huge impediment to legalization...
posted by delmoi at 5:58 PM on March 15, 2005


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