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THECONSEQUENCESAND COSTS OFMARIJUANAPROHIBITIONKatherine BeckettAssociate ProfessorDepartment of SociologyLaw, Societies and Justice ProgramBox 353340University of WashingtonSeattle, WA 98115andSteve HerbertAssociate ProfessorDepartment of GeographyLaw, Societies and Justice ProgramBox 353550University of WashingtonSeattle, WA 98115i

TABLE OF CONTENTSPreface . .6Introduction .8Part I: The Enforcement of Marijuana Laws .11Marijuana Arrests Nationally .11Marijuana Arrests in Washington State .14Marijuana Arrests in Seattle/King County .15Summary of Arrest Trends .16Marijuana Prohibition: Outcomes .17Trends in Marijuana Availability, Price and Potency . .18Marijuana Use Trends Nationally.19Marijuana Use Trends in Washington State . .21Marijuana Use Trends in Seattle/King County .21Conclusion: Does the Criminalization of Marijuana Decrease Marijuana Use? .25Part II: Assessing the Costs of Marijuana Enforcement . .27Collective Costs .27Fiscal and Organizational Costs .27Asset Forfeiture & the Enforcement of Marijuana Laws . .29Public Safety Costs . .31Human Costs .32Financial Costs . .33Social, Psychological and Physical Costs to Individualsand Their Families.43Part III: The Consequences of Decriminalization and Deprioritization .46Comparative and Longitudinal Studies of Decriminalizationand Deprioritization.47Deprioritizing Marijuana Arrests: The Impact of I-75 . .48Conclusion .53References .55Statutes Cited .60ii

Tables and FiguresTablesTable 1. Marijuana Possession Arrests and Arrest Rates per 100,000Residents, Mid-Sized U.S. Cities, 2003.49Table 2. Black Over-Representation in Marijuana Possession Arrestsin Mid-Sized Cities, 2003.52FiguresFigure 1. U.S. Marijuana Arrest Rate per 100,000 Residents, 1970-2005.12Figure 2. Washington State Marijuana Arrests 1985-2001.15Figure 3. Misdemeanor Marijuana Cases Referred for Prosecution inSeattle, 2000-2006.16Figure 4. Marijuana Use among 12th Graders.19Figure 5. Emergency Department Visits in Which the Patient MentionedMarijuana Use, 1988-2004.20Figure 6. Lifetime and Past Month Marijuana Use Rates amongWashington State Adults.21Figure 7. Incidence of Past Month Marijuana Use amongWashington State Students.22Figure 8. Rate of Emergency Department Marijuana Mentions,King and Snohomish Counties, 1988-2002.24Figure 9. Past Month Marijuana Use among Seattle Public School Students.24Figure 10. Marijuana Arrest Race and Past Month Use among HighSchool Seniors.25Figure 11. SPD Misdemeanor Marijuana Referrals 2000-2006.50iii

SUMMARY OF KEY FINDINGSFinding 1: Increasing marijuana arrests does not achieve the stated goals ofmarijuana prohibition. Efforts to reduce marijuana use in the United States over the past fourdecades have largely depended on arrest, imprisonment, incarceration and,more recently, the seizure of private property. Marijuana arrests in the U.S. have increased dramatically since 1992. In2006, there were a record 829,625 marijuana arrests. Nearly half (44%) of theroughly 1.9 million annual drug arrests were for marijuana. Despite recent increases in marijuana arrests, the price of marijuana hasdropped; its average potency has increased; it has become more readilyavailable; and marijuana use rates have often increased during the decadeof increasing arrests. It thus appears that the goals of marijuana prohibitionhave not been achieved.Finding 2: The collective costs of marijuana prohibition for the public are significant;The personal costs to individuals are also substantial, not adequatelyassessed by policymakers, and may negatively impact society as a whole. The enforcement of the laws prohibiting marijuana consumes significantfiscal and organizational resources that could usefully be allocated towardother pressing public safety goals. Marijuana arrests are not evenly distributed across the population, but aredisproportionately imposed on African Americans. The enforcement of marijuana laws imposes a range of social, psychologicaland familial costs on those arrested for marijuana law violations. A completeaccounting of the costs and benefits of marijuana prohibition requiresconsideration of these nonmonetary costs. A full and adequate analysis of the cost of enforcing current marijuana lawsrequires better and more complete record-keeping and data reporting by thepolice and others in the criminal justice system.iv

Finding 3: Decriminalizing marijuana and deprioritizing enforcement of marijuanalaws leads to no significant increase in marijuana use. Many states and localities have either decriminalized marijuana or deprioritized the enforcement of marijuana laws. There is no evidence that the decriminalization of marijuana by certainstates or the deprioritization of marijuana enforcement in Seattle and othermunicipalities caused an increase in marijuana use or related problems. This conclusion is consistent with the findings of numerous studies indicatingthat the increasing enforcement of marijuana laws has little impact onmarijuana use rates and that the decriminalization of marijuana in U.S. statesand elsewhere did not increase marijuana use.v

PrefaceAdam1 is a middle-aged man afflicted with multiple sclerosis. If left uncontrolled, hisailment blurs his vision, fatigues his muscles, and impairs his physical coordination.His physician recommended marijuana to help control the effects of Adam’s illness. Thisrecommendation enables Adam to legally consume medical marijuana under Washingtonstate law, and to grow and harvest his own marijuana plants. As a result, Adam, whoearns 30,000 a year, produced his own medication and avoided paying weekly expensesof 200 or more for commercially grown marijuana. He also was able to avoid purchasinghis medication from an illegal and potentially dangerous source.One afternoon, Adam arrived home to discover police officers in his apartment. While hehad been at one of his four jobs, burglars entered his apartment, stole some items, and lefthis door ajar upon their departure. Summoned by Adam’s neighbors, the police exploredthe apartment and discovered his marijuana plants. They seized Adam’s plants and theequipment that he used to grow them, which had cost him several thousand dollars andwould likely be even more costly to replace.Despite his status as a physician-authorized medical marijuana patient, Adam soonlearned that he could be charged with a crime for possessing marijuana plants, just likeany other defendant in a marijuana case. The government placed a lien on his house andtold Adam that he would have to pay a 14,000 fine as part of a proposed plea deal. Adamhired an attorney, paid him 2,000, and waited over a year before the charges were finallydropped. It was a distressing period in his life:I didn’t know whether I was going to jail. . . So I had to wait out a whole year. Itwas not easy. I mean, I was lucky that I didn’t let the emotional stress affect mydisability, because stress, with MS, makes the disease more intense. . . I had nocontrol. I was powerless to the situation of what was gonna happen with my life.Brian was a college student, experiencing the freedom of adulthood after a fairly strictreligious upbringing. Part of this newfound freedom involved experimentation withmarijuana. One evening, he and friend took a small amount of marijuana with them tothe Washington State Fair. As Brian strolled around the grounds, another young manapproached him. The young man quietly but insistently asked whether Brian had anymarijuana to sell. Brian demurred but the stranger persisted, explaining that he justwanted enough to smoke a bit with his friends. Feeling pressured, Brian agreed and theywent into a nearby bathroom so Brian could hand the stranger 5 worth of his own pot.Apparently, the young stranger who had pursued Brian was either a plainclothes officeror an informant. When they emerged from the bathroom, Brian was arrested by waitingpolice officers.1 Pseudonyms have been assigned to all interviewees to protect confidentiality.6

Thus began a year-long process that involved numerous court appearances, courtmandated drug testing and therapy, and great tension between Brian and his mother.He had grown up as a devout Christian and had never been in trouble with the law. LikeAdam, Brian found the experience extremely trying.Adam and Brian are just two of thousands of individuals who face criminal prosecutionin Washington state each year for a marijuana offense. Across the nation, considerableexpense goes toward punishing those citizens who run afoul of laws that prohibitmarijuana. The stated purpose of these laws is to prevent the use and sale of marijuanaby disrupting the marijuana market, increasing its price, reducing its availability, anddeterring potential users.This report assesses whether these goals are achieved as a result of the enforcement ofmarijuana laws. It also considers the costs of the enforcement of these laws in Seattle/King County, Washington state and the United States as a whole. These include fiscal andpublic safety costs, as well as the human costs borne by those individuals, like Adam,who are arrested for violating these laws.The findings indicate that the enforcement of marijuana laws does not measurably reducemarijuana use or any harm that may be associated with it. We also conclude that the waron marijuana is quite costly, in both financial and human terms.7

IntroductionMarijuana is currently prohibited by the federal government and classified as a ScheduleI controlled substance. Schedule I substances are categorized by the government as thosewith a high potential for abuse, no accepted medical use and no safe level of use undermedical supervision.2 Although local, state and federal marijuana laws vary substantially,it is illegal throughout the United States to possess or distribute any amount of marijuanafor any nonmedical reason (except for federally approved research) anywhere in theUnited States.3 Washington state law imposes criminal sanctions for possessing or growingmarijuana, although it recognizes the drug’s medical benefits by allowing patients withspecified medical conditions to use marijuana with their physician’s recommendation.The number of marijuana arrests taking place in the United States each year has skyrocketedin the past few decades. In 2006, there were 829,625 marijuana arrests. Today, nearly half(44%) of the roughly 1.9 million annual drug arrests now involve marijuana. 4 Both theabsolute number and rate of marijuana arrests are at record levels and increasing.Yet the classification of marijuana as an illegal drug is controversial. Although researcherscan show that heavy and long-term use of marijuana may produce adverse health effects,most conclude that occasional marijuana use does not cause health problems for the vastmajority of users. As the editors of Lancet, a leading British medical journal, concluded,while marijuana use likely poses health risks for people with particular vulnerabilities,“the smoking of cannabis, even long term, is not harmful to health” for most people.5 Anddesp