Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

ACLU of Pennsylvania reports on a "Cannabis Crackdown" in form of increased and disparate marijuana arrests in most of the state

41b7c95bb04dddc3f92b10784f2131f5_f3209As reported via this press release, headlined "ACLU of Pennsylvania Analysis Shows Statewide Increase in Marijuana Arrests," a new report has some interesting new data on marijuana arrests in the Keystone state. Here are the basics from the release:

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania released a new report [on October 16] that analyzes seven years of arrest data for marijuana offenses in the commonwealth. Based on Pennsylvania’s Uniform Crime Reporting System data over a period of seven years, the analysis shows a rise in marijuana possession arrests of adults of 33 percent in 66 counties between 2010 and 2016. Philadelphia was exempted from that analysis because its decriminalization ordinance led to a dramatic drop in arrests there in 2015 and 2016, and that drop was a significant outlier in the data set.

The study also shows that black people statewide are more than eight times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite similar usage rates among people of different races....

Among its findings, the report found that the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) is one of the leading drivers of the increase in arrests.  PSP’s total arrests per year for possession more than doubled in seven years, from 2,221 arrests in 2010 to 4,612 in 2016. Using fiscal analysis from a 2015 report by the RAND Corporation, the ACLU of Pennsylvania estimates that Pennsylvania taxpayers have spent more than $225 million in enforcing its marijuana laws between 2010 and 2016.

The report, entitled “Cannabis Crackdown,” shows that racial disparities have actually become worse over the last seven years. In 2010, black people in Pennsylvania were 6.5 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession. By 2016, that disparity had grown to 8.2 times more likely.

The full report is available at this link, and here is one excerpt from its executive summary:

The report finds that between 2010 and 2016, there were nearly 178,000 marijuana-related arrests in Pennsylvania, nearly 80 percent of which were for possession. Marijuana possession3 accounted for about 48 percent of Pennsylvania’s overall drug possession arrests for adults in 2016.

Adult marijuana possession arrests decreased slightly when looking at all 67 Pennsylvania counties over the last seven years, by less than five percent. That decrease, however, was due largely to a remarkable drop in enforcement in Philadelphia. By far Pennsylvania’s most populated county and its largest city, Philadelphia decriminalized marijuana in October 2014. The city implemented a municipal civil offense for possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana and enforced it in lieu of the commonwealth’s misdemeanor offense. Thus, Philadelphia County saw a resulting drop in adult marijuana possession arrests of more than 88 percent between 2010 and 2016.

Eliminating Philadelphia’s extraordinary decreases and looking only at Pennsylvania’s other 66 counties, marijuana arrests surged. Excluding Philadelphia, the commonwealth’s overall marijuana possession arrest numbers for adults and juveniles combined increased by nearly 25 percent between 2010 and 2016. Total possession arrests for adults alone increased by more than 33 percent commonwealth-wide when Philadelphia’s numbers were not included.

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