What if Wisconsin Arrested Half as Many People for Marijuana Possession?

Wisconsin and Minnesota are very similar states with very different approaches to marijuana possession. The two states have roughly the same number of people and similar demographics, but Wisconsin arrests twice as many people for marijuana possession. Which makes for an interesting question: what might happen if Wisconsin cut its marijuana possession arrests in half?

Marquette Law Professor Michael O’Hear, on his excellent blog, thinks through the reasons why Wisconsin might arrest so many more people for pot possession than Minnesota does:

In 2010, Wisconsin law enforcement agencies reported 16,111 arrests for simple possession of marijuana, including both adult and juvenile offenders.  The same year, Minnesota agencies reported only 7,453. With this one glaring exception, Wisconsin is not otherwise noticeably more aggressive about making drug arrests.  Wisconsin also made more possession arrests for other drugs than did Minnesota, but the gap was much less pronounced (4,807 to 3,737), while Minnesota actually outstripped Wisconsin by a considerable margin when it came to arrests for drug trafficking (6,382 to 4,832).  So, it is not as if our neighbors to the west have declared a general truce in the War on Drugs, while we have doggedly fought on.  Rather, there seems something specific about marijuana possession that is differentiating the two states.

It seems unlikely that differences in marijuana use could account for such a large difference in the arrest rates.  Indeed, based on the National Survey of Drug Use and Health, it appears that marijuana use in Minnesota is, if anything, slightly higher than in Wisconsin.  So, the differences in arrest rates probably result to a significant degree from differences in police behavior.  What drives those differences is not immediately apparent from any data that I have seen.

The difference has both economic and human costs. The act of arrest by itself carries an estimated marginal cost of $439 in law enforcement resources. So if Wisconsin cut its marijuana possession arrests in half, $3.5 million would be a highly conservative estimate of the savings to taxpayers. That estimate does not include the considerable costs of jailing the arrested ($144 per day in Milwaukee County), the court costs of prosecuting a fraction of those arrests ($167 apiece), or of incarcerating the relatively small percentage of arrests that lead to a jail or prison sentence ($31,000 per year in Wisconsin state prison). 

There are also substantial human costs to arresting people for marijuana possession.   A small survey of marijuana arrests in Washington found that the average cost of bail, fines, and court costs to be $1,675. People arrested for marijuana possession are often required to miss work to appear in court or to attend drug testing, and some lose their jobs. Some lose their license to drive. Moreover, even misdemeanor convictions make it difficult to find new employment. 

Not only are the costs of a marijuana possession arrest steep, but they are disproportionately meted out against communities of color. To quote Prof. O’Hear again:

Whatever the cause of Wisconsin’s arrest rate, there is clearly a racial dimension to it, whether intentional or not. The adult marijuana possession arrest rate for blacks is nearly six times higher than the rate for whites (1,255 per 100,000 residents versus 217) (emphasis mine).

A factor of six is a huge difference, and it can’t be justified by different usage rates between white and black people, which study after study has found to be negligible. A better explanation for the disparity is probably where police are deployed, and how they interact with residents in communities in which they’re present. This is a problem by no means unique to Wisconsin; Minnesota is one of the worst offenders in the country when it comes to the black-white disparity in marijuana arrests.

Whether or not policymakers care about the fairness of a system that punishes and stigmatizes people for small-time pot possession, they should be interested in the value of deploying law enforcement resources for marijuana possession. This summer, Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy stated that marijuana decriminalization will halve the 45,000 hours police hours consumed by small-time marijuana arrests, “freeing up police resources for more serious crime.” According to former Minneapolis Chief of Police Anthony Bouza, “Making marijuana arrests a priority is a waste of police resources and does not reduce street violence.” Indeed, recent research found no indication that drug arrests reduce other crime.

Minnesota policymakers’ decision not to prioritize marijuana possession hasn’t caused an epidemic in usage; in fact, Minnesotans use marijuana at about the same rate as Wisconsin residents (Minnesota, 11.2 percent; Wisconsin, 10.6 percent). This suggests that we know what probably won’t happen if Wisconsin halved its marijuana possession arrests—usage is unlikely to skyrocket. We also know that the state is likely to save money and conserve police resources for more serious offenses. So why shouldn’t the state cut its marijuana possession arrests in half?

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(1) Are state marijuana laws double-billing taxpayers because
they duplicate federal marijuana laws, or violate them conjesting
courts with actions?
(2) Is Medical Marijuana only for rich people who are not at risk
of losing federally subsidized benefits like federally subsidized
housing, food stamps, medicaid, etc., because if the poor disabled
people on "benefits" used medical marijuana, they would LOSE their
"beneifts"? So, is Medical Marijuana only for the rich in Vermont?
Watch the VPT/PBS televised Governor candidate debate with
incumbent Peter Shumlin who is arrogant and rich, USMJP http://usmjp.com
candidate Cris Ericson for the U.S. Marijuana Party in Vermont,
Emily Peyton who dropped out in the last race and probably will again,
and the Libery Union candidate who will also probably drop out,
because that's what their party did last time, right before the Vote,
and Republican candidate Randy Brock.
http://www.vpt.org Oct. 4, 2012.

Malcolm Kyle

Talk to your children!

Kids can ask some tough questions but those concerning prohibition are actually fairly easy to answer. Be straightforward: Explain concisely just how the unconscionable acts of parasitic prohibitionists at all levels of our bi-partisan police-state have raised gang warfare to a level not seen since the days of alcohol bootleggin­g; ­

Explain how these unconscionable prohibitionists have creating a prison-for­-profit synergy with evil drug lords and terrorists;

How they were able to remove many of our cherished and important civil liberties;

How they've ensured that many previously unknown and contaminate­d drugs keep appearing on our streets, in our schools, and even in our prisons;

How they've overcrowd­ing the courts and prisons, making it increasing­ly impossible to curtail the people who are really hurting and terrorizing­ others;

And how they've helped to evolve local street gangs into transnatio­nal enterprise­s with intricate power structures that reach into every corner of society, and with significant social and military resources at their disposal.

After you've explained all that: Show them how prohibitionists have manipulated well-meaning but gullible parents for decades; read them the following quote from Adolf Hitler's “Mein Kampf”

"The State must declare the child to be the most precious treasure of the people. As long as the government is perceived as working for the benefit of the children, the people will happily endure almost any curtailment of liberty and almost any deprivation." 

Finally, our children need to know that It's always possible to prevent a dire situation turning into an irreversible and very bleak one; kindly explain to them what our very wise forefathers did back in 1933 —when they finally rejected the policy imposed on them by the exact same type of intolerant, hysterical, pathologically lying, criminally insane, corrupt, self-serving, control-freak bigots.

Educate, regulate, and tax! 

Stay Informed