Needed: A Sane Approach to the Enforcement of Marijuana Laws

June 2001 / Abell Reports / Criminal Justice and Addiction, Health and Human Services

Current enforcement generates 13,000 arrests annually and lands 3,000 in pre-trial detention and 7,000 in drug treatment programs – with no clear benefit to the communities or individuals involved.

Communities across Maryland are working to control drug use and associated crime. However, as they do so, they need to make clearheaded assessments of their policing and enforcement efforts. As this Abell Report shows, communities should not reflexively assume that tough marijuana enforcement contributes to their efforts to reduce substance abuse.

In the recently published “Assessing the Crackdown on Marijuana in Maryland.” Peter Reuter, with co-authors Paul Hirschfield and Curt Davies, examines the records of arrests and incarceration for marijuana possession 1991 to 1998, using state arrest data and more detailed information from Baltimore City, Montgomery County, and Prince George’s County. In addition, they explore marijuana enforcement as an adjunct of other policing activity and the use of drug treatment as a sanction for marijuana possession.

What the authors find in the data is a clear picture of increased arrests and time spent in jail. What they could not find from police interviews and “ride-alongs” is any clear indication of why these increases have occurred.