Pot arrests up sharply, report says

The number of arrests for marijuana use is up dramatically in Mesa County and elsewhere in the state, according to a study released Thursday by proponents of a ballot measure to legalize pot.

That same study, conducted by two East Coast university professors, also shows that Hispanics and blacks were arrested for marijuana possession 1 1/2 to three times more often than whites.

The researchers, sociology professor Harry Levine of Queens College in New York City and criminal justice professor Jon Gettman of Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va., said the results of the study show the need to decriminalize the possession and use of small amounts of marijuana.

“U.S. government studies consistently find that young whites use marijuana at higher rates than young blacks and Latinos.” Levine said. “But police in Colorado arrested young Latinos and blacks at higher rates than young whites. These possession arrests fall heavily on the most vulnerable people in Colorado.”

The study, based on crime statistics collected by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, shows that law enforcement in every county and city in Colorado made more than 210,000 arrests for marijuana possession between 1986 to 2010.

The study, however, does not distinguish between possession-only cases, or for what amounts, and that’s important if the study is to have any meaning, said Dan Rubinstein, chief deputy district attorney for Mesa County.

Current law allows law enforcement to arrest or issue summonses for two ounces of marijuana or more, Rubinstein said.

The ballot question, Amendment 64, would allow Coloradans to possess up to half that amount, meaning the number of arrests wouldn’t change as a result.

“In order for this to be a misdemeanor that’s eligible for arrest, you have to have two ounces, so the answer to the question, how many arrests do we have for what this (amendment) would apply to is zero,” Rubinstein said.

Proponents of the measure argue that pot should be legalized because it would free up the state’s courts and jails, but Rubinstein said that still wouldn’t happen.

On summonses issued for smaller amounts of marijuana, the penalties are usually very light, and never result in jail time, he said.

“The possible penalty for that possession charge is a maximum of a $100 fine and a maximum of 16 hours community service,” Rubinstein said. “It’s not even possible to get jail time as a sentence for it, so there’s nobody in jail or in prison for that.”

The study’s researchers also question a “dramatic” increase in arrests statewide, including in Mesa County.

According to their information, marijuana arrests in the county jumped three to six times over the past decade, far higher per capita than other parts of the state.

Rubinstein, however, said much of that is because of an increase in drug-related crimes since the legalization of medical marijuana, which voters approved in 2000.


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