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California Arrests Plummet With Marijuana Legalization

California Arrests Plummet With Marijuana Legalization
PHOTO Jeff Turner


California Arrests Plummet With Marijuana Legalization

Complain all you want about the regulated market, but remember: Legalization means fewer people in jail.

You hear it constantly, and so it’s good to be constantly reminded: “Marijuana legalization is bad” is the king of all privileged takes — which means, almost always, that it is a bad and wrong take.

Here are some common examples. Marijuana legalization is bad because it drives up the cost of cannabis, because of taxes, lab-testing, regulation. Marijuana legalization is bad because some cannabis products become available due to same, marijuana legalization is bad because it puts the same government that persecuted the weed and its users in charge of doling it out.

These takes are privileged because they come from a position of privilege — the position of not being in jail for marijuana and not at risk of being arrested and having your life upended for marijuana. Not everyone enjoys that position. And they should.

Thus, something that would extend that privilege — and maybe even make it universal — is more important than ensuring that the entire experiment is flawless, smooth and exactly as you like it. And as the latest arrest statistics out of California reveal, marijuana legalization has been extremely effective at seeing fewer people arrested for marijuana.

Earlier this month, the California Attorney General’s Office released its annual crime report. And according to California NORML, which perused the report to pull out the relevant data, marijuana arrests plummeted by 56  percent in 2017, the first full year when adults 21 and over could legally possess small quantities of the drug.

Some 13,018 people were arrested for cannabis in 2016. In 2017, after voters approved Proposition 64 on the same night other voters elected Donald Trump, 6,065 people were arrested for marijuana in California.

The data doesn’t give much in the way of nuance or detail. We’re not sure how many people were arrested for a marijuana crime in addition to something else. It’s not uncommon for a marijuana charge to be tacked onto a crime report, if an individual had marijuana as well as a harder drug, burglary tools, an unlicensed firearm or some other more serious offense.

But we do know that Prop. 64 reduced nearly every criminal penalty for marijuana from misdemeanors and felonies to infractions — and we also know that far fewer people are in serious trouble for marijuana, as felony arrests fell even further, from 7,949 in 2016 to 2,086 in 2017, according to the report.

Felony crimes include selling to minors or repeated or “aggravated” sales or intent to sell. “Aggravated” can be nebulous but generally means significant amounts well beyond those that might be plausibly seen as for personal use.

Medical cannabis patients’ higher allowances for plants and for possession limits —which can vary from county to county — were untouched. Significantly, “crimes” related to possessing too much cannabis or growing too many plants or selling were reduced to less serious offenses.

Prop. 64 allowed adults 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of cannabis and cultivate up to six plants in their home. It did not extend those rights to people under 21, and it also did not allow for unlicensed sales. Nor did it remove restrictions on possessing drugs — including cannabis — in school zones.

There are plenty of other things Prop. 64 did not do. It did not spring from incarceration, immediately, everyone incarcerated for a cannabis-related crime. It did not immediately wipe clean the records of all former cannabis “offenders” (though some district attorneys are now doing that work).

But as these data show, it absolutely led to fewer people arrested for marijuana, immediately. In that way, legalization is like democracy — imperfect, incomplete, and constantly evolving. The big fights now are over equity and access to the market — not whether or not it’s a good use of police time and public resources to continue arresting people for cannabis. That argument is won, and only thanks to that do we have the privilege of fixing everything else that’s wrong with our drug policy.

TELL US, how do you feel about the implementation of Prop 64 in California?

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