Three Quarters of A Million Americans Arrested For Marijuana Possession in 2008

In the US last year, 754,224 people were arrested for possession (not dealing or production) of marijuana.  By the logic of US drug laws, all of these folks are better off with an arrest record and possible incarceration that they are from the nominal negative effects of smoking marijuana (FBI report here, via Radley Balko).  These numbers are just insane.  And while the report only gives race numbers for total drug arrests rather than for just marijuana offenses, a hugely disproportionate number are black (over 1/3 of arrests).

And speaking of equal protection, the arrest numbers for gambling are eye-opening (table 43).  75% of all people arrested for gambling last year in the US were black, including 90% of the arrests of those under 18 for this offense.  It seems it is A-OK for whites to play poker at home for money (I'm guilty) or to bet in Super Bowl pools (guilty again) or to clad themselves in polyester and head to the casino boat, but blacks who choose to compete with the state gambling/lottery monopoly will get arrested.  As an aside, I have always laughed at the government piously suing tobacco companies for targeting minorities with their advertising and then using the same techniques themselves to target minorities for their lottery sales.


  1. Scott:

    You're making the assumption that the gambling offenses these people are being arrested for are the same/similar to yours. There are many more ways to gamble than the couple of ways you listed.

  2. Jens Fiederer:

    But it is bitter, bitter laughter.

  3. KR:

    In Virginia at least I'm fairly sure playing poker at your house is legal as long as there's no rake (i.e. the house doesn't take a cut). Though I suppose I could be wrong and we've been breaking the law the whole time.

    I would assume betting pools work the same way, though I know assuming the law is logical is a quick path to insanity.

  4. Nobrainer:


    The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program counts one arrest for each separate instance in which a person is arrested, cited, or summoned for an offense. The UCR Program collects arrest data on 29 offenses, as described in Offense Definitions. Because a person may be arrested multiple times during a year, the UCR arrest figures do not reflect the number of individuals who have been arrested. Rather, the arrest data show the number of times that persons are arrested, as reported by law enforcement agencies to the UCR Program.

  5. DKH:

    "By the logic of US drug laws, ..."

    I don't think you are making a good faith representation of the logic of, and argument for, US drug laws here. I really couldn't care less what the law is on this subject, but I think your constant representation of drugs laws in this manner makes you disingenuous and your argument less persuasive.

    No one thinks anyone is better off with an arrest record than the negative consequences (if any) from smoking. That's the point of putting an arrest on your record; it's a disincentive.

  6. Will H.:

    Just remember that the ATF is part of the Treasury department. They get a piece of the action from all legal transaction of alcohol, tobacco and firearms. You can own a machine gun if you buy the Class II license. The government doesn't really want you to stop smoking, they need the money. Why do they go after moonshiners? No alcohol stamp.

    The problem with gambling is now the state have a piece of the action through their lotteries and licensed casinos (tax revenues) and they don't want the competition.

    The state will eventually have some form of legalization of marijuana because they will want a piece of the action, California is debating that issue now.

    But if you legalized drugs and prostitution what would the gangsters do for a living, the state keeps on taking their business away. :-)

  7. stan:

    Your conclusions on racial disparity don't pass the smell test. I'm perfectly willing to believe that public officials are capable of lots of stupidity and perfidy. In my experience, however, the vast majority are extremely good at covering their asses. And the single most dangerous, career-ending accusation that can be leveled in our society today is -- "Racist!" Public servants will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid that. e.g. Heather MacDonald, at City Journal,had a good piece a few years ago showing that "driving while black" is BS. In reality, blacks are less likely to be pulled over if they commit traffic violations.

    I suspect that the gambling arrests are likely to accompany assorted other offenses which are typical of gang or organized crime activities. If the drug pushing, protection racket muscle, pimping, and hijacking happen to be accompanied by some number running, I doubt many prosecutors are going to choose not to charge the suspect with gambling just because he hasn't busted your neighborhood poker game.

  8. Tailwind:

    Funny you mention the drug arrests....for at least 8 yrs now I have thought the WoD was in vain. Please do not misunderstand me here, I do not use drugs nor do I condone them because they can cause a great deal of misery.

    What I am saying is that the 'War on Drugs' is lost. Why do I say this? Some years ago I watched a documentary about how middle America had begun switching to a new cash crop: marijuana. It showed how rural farmers had started growing 'Weed' once again (the first time as hemp in the late 1800's and the early 1900's) and I realized then that if true, then they are truly desperate to make money and our efforts to stop it will be for nothing. Given the $billions we have spent, how little real impact it has made on supply and how many non-violent people are incarcerated for relatively minor offenses, I honestly think we should redirect our efforts and our money.

    Given the current economic situation, I fully expect some States and perhaps even the Federal government to seriously consider decriminalizing MJ so it can be taxed and provide $billions to government coffers. (After all, we have to raise revenues to pay for all the new debt our omnipotent 'leaders' have decreed we MUST incur to keep the Ponzi going./sarc)

    Ironic (if this happens) that a product once grown and taxed legally, was made illegal by decree and then made legal again so it could be taxed (again) might finally be viewed with less emotion.

  9. Ed Fargler:

    Around here black people tend to do their gambling right out on the street. Yes they still roll the bones in back alleys so course it's more likely that they will get arrested as compared to white people playing poker in their houses. Man you can be of sometimes.

    Now lets look at alcohol. How many people arrested have been under the influence of alcohol, a legal substance, and been arrested? Let's include DUI, drunk in public, alcohol induced assaults etc. We're probably in the

  10. Ed Farlger:

    Oops hit enter. Anyway, we;re at arond 1.5 million arrests in DUI alone. So using your logic if marijuana became legal then wouldn't we see a spike in marijuana related crime? Isn't it amazing when DUI laws went into affect, the number of DUIs went down. It must be a strage world for you when a law may actually have a use. I agree with the libertarian mindset, but being anti rule of law is just juvenile.

  11. R. Zapata:

    Wow Ed, I didn't understand anything you just said. I wanna buy my pot from you.

  12. HS:

    I would rather deal with a guy high on marijuana than drunk on alcohol. I have never seen anyone angry when high but I have seen plenty angry when drunk.

  13. Scott Wiggins:

    Take a look at FBI crime statistics and you will find the blacks are disproportionately represented across all criminal statistics. You tell me why 12% of the population commits 50% of violent crimes...And, I'm not particularly interested in arguments that blame racism...I live in Charleston, SC. Many neighborhoods which are predominately black are combat zones...Drugs are sold openly and the cops only really get involved on heavy stuff like shootings, domestics etc...There are literally hundreds of petty crimes committed for every arrest. Why? Who cares. Arrest the bastards, prosecute them and stop looking for causality. There is no grand conspiracy to lock up blacks.

  14. Scott Wiggins:

    Rampant drug use nearly destroyed the morale and discipline of the military back in the seventies...I've heard stories of mechanics working on airplanes while high...There were even a few cases of crashes where pilots were high...The military cleaned up the drug problem thru strict adherence to urinalysis testing for all hands...No exceptions...

    I don't think we want to legalize marijuana...The damage to society will be incalculable...Our society already suffers from a dearth of discipline and work ethic amongst our young people. Marijuana won't help that. It will merely compound our difficulties.

  15. nom de guerre:

    "you don't think we want to legalize pot", scott? because the damage would be "incalculable"??? are you freakin' kiding? am i missing some sarcasm here?

    pot, dope, and all that good stuff has been illegal to one degree or another since 1914, plus or minus. 1913-14 were bad times: before then, the very notion that the federal government had the right to demand income statements from its citizens; or to criminalize herbs or powders, was rightfully ridiculed. but, as we all know, nanny staters who knew what was best for us prevailed - way to go there, teddy roosevelt, and all of his 'reformer' ilk - and began the process of turning us all into government employees.

    whether you agree with that analysis or not, it's a fact that pot and heroin and coke has been illegal for 95 frickin' YEARS now. every year, the penalties get a little more severe; every year, the cops get a little more militarized and out of control. 95 years. just shy of a century. and after all THAT...after all the lives ruined by being convicted for using a *weed*; after all the people, guilty and innocent, murdered by cops over a *powder*....after all that, it's not even close to working. when i was in junior high, 35 years ago, i could get a bag of pot within 72 hours with laughable ease. everybody knew a guy who knew a guy. my young niece in junior high today.....can get her hands on pot in 72 hours or less. everybody knows a guy who knows a guy. nothing has changed! nothing! (except, of course, we've lost more of our freedoms - which i'm seriously starting to think was the plan all along.)

    einstein famously defined insanity as doing the same thing, again and again, and expecting a different result. since we're batting 0-for-a century, scott, what would you suggest is the proper course of action? what steps would you take to make things better? why exactly was prohibition given up on in 1933? after alcohol was made legal once again, did the country slide down the tubes? were we invaded and conquered by teetotalland?