In November 2016, California voters went to the polls and approved Proposition 64, the measure that legalized the adult possession, cultivation and sale of cannabis. One of the predictable by-products of that vote is that arrests for marijuana offenses have fallen dramatically in just the last 2 years.
In fact, according to new data from the U.S. Attorney General’s Office, total marijuana arrests in California fell from almost 14,000 in 2016 to a little over 6,000 in 2017 – a 56% drop. When you look at the numbers for felony cannabis offense arrests, you see those fell from almost 8,000 in 2016 to a little over 2,000 in 2017, a decline of 74%.
When the numbers are broken down in terms of demographics, we see that Hispanics take the brunt of enforcement. From California NORML:
Whites accounted for 24% of felony arrests, while Hispanics (40%) and African-Americans (21%) were again disproportionately arrested. The greatest percentage of felony arrests were for those aged 20-29 (39%, or 815 arrests); this age bracket was the most arrested for all ethnic groups.
Misdemeanor arrests break down much the same way, with Hispanics accounting for 46% of those arrests. In terms of age, some 45% of misdemeanor arrests were of those under 18 years old.
Of course, even under legalization, as long as there are restrictions on amounts, on who can sell and grow, etc., there are going to be some arrests.
Total marijuana arrests in California have been falling since 2012, mainly as a result of the possession of small amounts of cannabis being decriminalized in 2011, meaning those citations no longer showed up in the arrest numbers. Prior to that – in 2009 – marijuana arrests in the state reached a peak not seen since the late 1970s, with almost 80,000 total arrests.
Imagine how much time and resources are saved in a year by law enforcement in CA arresting 6,000 people for marijuana as opposed to the 80,000 just 8 years earlier. That’s 74,000 fewer useless arrests in the space of 12 months.
Those numbers will continue to approach zero in states like California until we get to a point where marijuana arrests are no more common than arrests for bootleg cigarettes or moonshine. And this is as it should be; those who grow, sell and possess marijuana are not infringing on the rights of anyone else and they should never have been treated like criminals in the first place.