Drug Czar Attempts Damage Control After Report Shows that Nonviolent Marijuana Users Make up Almost Half of Drug War Arrests

Press Release May 17, 2005
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Tony Newman at (212) 613-8026

In a report released today, the Office of National Drug Control Policy attempted to do damage control after the Sentencing Project, a Washington-based think tank, released a report showing that the primary targets of the war on drugs are marijuana users. 700,000 people are arrested annually on marijuana charges, 87% of whom are arrested for non-violent possession.

The ONDCP report, titled “Who’s Really in Prison for Marijuana?”, paints a picture in which very few people charged with non-violent marijuana offenses suffer serious consequences. But its disingenuous conclusions are the result of several problematic omissions, which include:

The report’s misleading title, which is reinforced throughout the text, emphasizes misleading “prison” numbers in order to advance the idea that few people are behind bars on marijuana charges. It neglects to include the number of people in jails for marijuana violations. Jails account for about one third of the total number of people behind bars in this country.

In its calculations, the ONDCP ignores the tens of thousands of people on probation or parole who are reincarcerated simply because of minor marijuana offenses (such as testing positive for marijuana in a drug test, or for minor marijuana possession). They are not listed as marijuana offenders, but rather under their original charge.

The ONDCP report completely ignores the collateral consequences of being arrested–even if one doesn’t wind up serving time behind bars, arrest is extremely costly. It can lead to losing one’s job, and losing time and money due to lawyer fees and lost wages. Anyone convicted of even the most minor marijuana offense has a criminal record that limits his or her employment options, loses college financial aid, and is banned from public housing and from receiving public assistance.

“The drug czar realized that the American public does not support mass arrests for marijuana possession,” said Ethan Nadelmann executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Unfortunately, instead of changing his policies, he just tries to put a compassionate face on a war on drugs that is devastating American families. That’s what this report is about–sugar coating the bitter truth.”


A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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