As the general public becomes more and more turned off to marijuana prohibition, certain members of the conservative political establishment cling to the argument that prosecuting marijuana possession allows law enforcement to put potentially violent criminals behind bars. This highly unethical tactic has led NYPD to arrest 500,000 people over the last fifteen years–most of them young blacks or Hispanics–on possession charges.
After 80 years of prohibition, one would expect strong associations between cannabis possession and violent crime (and violent criminals). But despite marijuana’s contraband status, the numbers still don’t add up. On November 23rd, Human Rights Watch published a report showing that people who enter the criminal justice system with an arrest for public possession of marijuana rarely commit violent crimes in the future.
“We tracked through mid-2011 the criminal records of nearly 30,000 people without prior criminal convictions who were arrested in 2003 and 2004 for marijuana possession… We found that 3.1 percent of them were subsequently convicted of one violent felony offense during the six-and-a-half to eight-and-a-half years that our research covers; 0.4 percent had two or more violent felony convictions. That is, 1,022 persons out of the nearly 30,000 we tracked had subsequent violent felony convictions. Ninety percent (26,315) had no subsequent felony convictions of any kind.”
Perhaps the most astounding finding is not that pot smokers aren’t inherently violent, but that most of these arrestees, after being profiled and prosecuted out of urban minority neighborhoods, and after having their dignities and economic opportunities compromised by a criminal record—enough to make anyone rightfully pissed off— still don’t show up as violent criminals at the end of the day. They must still be smoking pot.
“As long as they keep arresting people, and making them pay such a heavy price for possessing marijuana in public view, New York City officials owe the public an explanation for how those arrests contribute to public safety,” said Issa Kohler-Hausmann, co-author of the report and consultant at Human Rights Watch.
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