Does Decriminalization Work? Dramatic Decrease in California Marijuana Arrests Has Some Analysts Saying Yes

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Marijuana possession arrests in California plummeted by 86 percent following the passage of a law decriminalizing possession of small amounts of the drug, according to recently-released data from the Criminal Justice Statistics Center. Arrests fell from 54,900 in 2010 to just 7,800 in 2011.

Mike Males, of the Center on Juvenile & Criminal Justice, said the law may “prove much more effective in reducing simple marijuana arrests than Proposition 19, or Washington’s and Oregon’s marijuana legalization initiatives passed this year.” Nationwide, he said, the current trend toward legalization might cut total marijuana arrests by half.

In California, felony arrests for marijuana sales and manufacturing dropped from 16,600 in 2010 to 14,100 in 2011, a decrease of 17 percent for adults and 10 percent for young people. Additionally, from 2010 to 2011, the total number of marijuana arrests in the state plummeted by 70 percent. In 2011, youth arrests for other drugs declined by almost 25 percent.

“Marijuana reform does not appear to have affected other crimes,” Males states. “For all ages, both sexes, and all races except older whites, felony and violent crime arrests rates declined from 2010 to 2011, with much larger drops among youths than among adults.”

Photo by Torben Bjørn Hansen courtesy of Flickr. 

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