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Why marijuana arrests are totally high

by Jesse Fruhwirth
- Posted // 2009-09-17 -

I could not wrap my head around why this is happening: there were three times as many marijuana arrests in 2008 as there were in 1992. It's now legal in 13 states to smoke marijuana for medical reasons and yet the numbers keep going up. How could that be? Who better to explain it than the founder of NORML, the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws, Keith Stroup.

This is what got me thinking about it. Though the data were previously published, this is a new graphic today from NORML:

I knew there had to be a good explanation, and Stroup gave it to me. Arrests are down in states that have medical marijuana laws, Stroup said, and are up in the state that have yet to reform their laws. So why are arrests up, up, up in the states that have not yet reformed?

"The thing that's not reflected in that [graph above] is that the individuals who were arrested today were almost all treated far more leniently than they would have back in 1990," Stroup said. "Marijuana has become more acceptable. There's no doubt. We have a lot of data on that. As a result of that, people may be a little more public about their smoking."

Ah-ha. Makes perfect sense.Because they are judged less harshly by the public and the criminal justice system, people are smoking in parks and in their cars, etc., and are thus they are easier to arrest. When people begin thinking that pot is safer than alcohol, behaviors change, thus arrest rates change. I love a mystery solved.

Related blog post: Do Utah's marijuana laws need to be reformed?

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