The Medical Marijuana Magazine


Are people really being arrested for marijuana possession? What happens when someone is arrested?

If you have made it this far into this site you probably already know that there have been almost eleven million marijuana arrests in the last thirty years. Presently, there is another arrest every 54 seconds or so. This is a rate of over half a million per year. Roughly eighty-five percent of these are for simple possession.

Don't be embarrassed, though, if you did not know this. Eric Schlosser, the author of three major articles in The Atlantic Monthly More Reefer Madness about marijuana prohibition, began his first article in 1994 by relating that this very question was asked by the editors of the magazine at the beginning of their discussions about the article. If these exceptionally well-informed people do not know, then why should anyone?

The fact is that the arrest numbers are almost never reported. Since NORML first started trying to publicize the numbers in 1993, they have been reported only once to my knowledge. This February, Bernard Shaw of CNN related the arrest numbers at the end of a special about marijuana, and even gave NORML as the source. Unprecedented and unduplicated.

The fact that no one knows these numbers allows the prohibitionists to claim that not enough is being done to "fight marijuana," and to ignore the costs of prohibition. The Clinton Administration's failure to cite these numbers in its own defense when it is being accused of being "soft on marijuana" is one of the most curious aspects of this silence. When the total arrests pass the eleven million mark this year, anti-prohibitionists should demand that the media report these numbers.

As for what happens when someone is arrested, the consequences range from minor embarrassment to having their lives ruined. Obviously, much depends on who you are and where you get caught. Congressman Dan Burton's son has been caught twice with large quantities of marijuana and nothing happened to him. In his most recent Atlantic article Schlosser talks about people who have gotten life sentences for a joint. Of course, prison is not all that can happen to someone.

In "lenient" California someone arrested in their home can lose their driver's license, which can obviously mean the loss of a job. In other places people can lose custody of their children. If a person is charged with cultivation of just one plant, the consequences can be even more dire. People can and do lose their homes, farms, etc. to "civil forfeiture."

For medical marijuana users the consequences can be even worse. They can be deprived of the only medicine that has given them relief from their suffering and then be forced to take pharmaceuticals that leave them debilitated and yet not help them. This is analogous to the Soviet's abuse of its political dissidents by imprisoning them in psychiatric hospitals and forcing them to take drugs that threatened their sanity. We treat our more numerous pharmaceutical dissidents even more cruelly.

The variation in the consequences of getting arrested on a marijuana charge is one of the injustices of marijuana prohibition that can only be addressed by publicizing the arrest statistics and the consequences of arrests. Inasmuch as this might undermine public support for marijuana prohibition, these facts are pro-drug and anti-child and therefore must be consigned to the memory hole. Now that you know them, you must eat your computer.