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... a weekly service for the media on news items related to Marijuana Prohibition.

July 18,1995

Marijuana Arrests Hit Ten Million Mark...  Drug Czar Compares Marijuana to Cocaine

        Based on projections from 1993 Justice Department statistics (FBI Uniform Crime Reports), the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws estimates that the total number of marijuana arrests since 1965 will pass the ten million mark on July 20th, 1995.  Mounting at the rate of more than one thousand per day, more than 80% of these arrests are solely for personal possession.  The balance are for cultivation--often for personal use--or for sale, usually a involving a very small quantity.
        To put these numbers in context: Marijuana arrests in 1993 (380,690) made up approximately one third of the 1.1 million total drug arrests that year.  By comparison, there were approximately 600,000 arrests for violent crimes.  This year, the Clinton Administration sought to provide 100,000 new police.  Now, if an arrest, transporting the arrestee to jail, paper work, etc. ideally takes only 2 hours, and there is only one officer involved, then marijuana arrests currently use the time of approximately one hundred thousand police per year.  There are approximately 550,000 state and local police officers.  Thus, approximately 20% of their total time is consumed by marijuana arrests.
        Obviously, this burden on police resources is not the same in all jurisdictions.  In 11 states, marijuana possession has been decriminalized and the police typically issue citations rather than arrest an offender.  Additionally, in most major cities marijuana possession is a very low priority.  However, in some smaller towns, it seems to be a major focus for the police.  For example, in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, police searched Scott Bryant's garbage for marijuana residue for several days before getting a warrant and shooting him dead on April 17.  He was unarmed and less than an ounce of marijuana was found.  In a small town in Oklahoma, paraplegic and medical marijuana user Jimmy Montgomery was sentenced to 10 years for possession of less than two ounces.  He is still awaiting release on a medical parole.
        Moreover, the prospect of being able to seize valuable property under civil forfeiture has created an incentive to seek out marijuana cultivation.  This is believed to have been the reason for the 1992 raid on multimillionaire Donald Scott's estate near Malibu that resulted in his being killed by police.  No marijuana was found.  The effect of these increasing arrests on marijuana availability, however, seems to be negligible.  According to Joseph Califano, Chairman of the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, "American children are telling us they are drenched in drugs."
        The Clinton Administration is now devoting most of its efforts to the suppression of marijuana.  Drug Czar Lee Brown in a press release on July 17 cited a survey commissioned by Califano's group.  Brown said that: "91% of the population blames illegal drug and alcohol abuse for the rate of violent crime that we have in America today.  This fact alone should tell the media that they need to make the connection between drug use and violent crime in their news stories."  However, in a letter to the editor of the Summer issue of Forbes Media Critic, Califano himself points out that marijuana "has not been associated with high levels of violence." In fact, most of the violence in our society is associated with alcohol -- not marijuana.
        Perhaps even more misleading is the media advisory from Brown's office announcing "marijuana sends virtually the same numbers to emergency rooms as cocaine."  This statement is supposedly based on numbers from DAWN, the Drug Abuse Warning Network.  In truth, the DAWN statistics say nothing of the sort.  First, they deal with emergency room mentions, not causes of admission established by a doctor.  The DAWN figures further demonstrate that over 80% of marijuana mentions are in conjunction with problems associated with alcohol, cocaine, or some other drug.  In cases where marijuana is the only drug mentioned, the problem is almost always a panic attack by inexperienced users.  There is no practical lethal dose of marijuana and the only adverse acute effects of marijuana are transitory and not life or health threatening.
        Consequently, the hospital emergency room mentions of marijuana are neither qualitatively nor quantitatively comparable to those caused by cocaine.  However, the children of America might get the impression from Brown's statement that the risks associated with cocaine are no greater than those associated with marijuana.  This conclusion would seem to be the antithesis of drug education.  NORML National Director Richard Cowan commented that the Clinton Administration's drug policy concentrating on marijuana seems to be aimed at avoiding "inhale" jokes at all costs.  Another ten million arrests is too high a price to pay for that.