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A Fiscal Analysis of Marijuana Decriminalization
MARIJUANA ARREST COSTS 1972-1984
The following graph (Source: MJSPRD) shows at a-glance the effect of the Moscone Act on marijuana arrests. Felony marijuana arrests fell by about 80,000, from nearly 100,000 in 1974 to less than 20,000 in 1976. Misdemeanor marijuana arrests were not recorded between 1972 and 1977, but leaped tenfold from about 3,500 in 1972 to 35,424 in 1978. By 1984, total marijuana arrests were leveling off at below 64,000 a year, so the cumulative effect of the Moscone Act was to reduce total marijuana arrests by at least 36,000 a year.
EFFECT OF THE MOSCONE ACT ON MARIJUANA ARRESTS
In 1974 felony marijuana arrests peaked at nearly 100,000 (99,597), representing about one-fourth (24.75 percent) of the felony arrests in the state (Table 7) and over two-thirds (69.21 percent) of the state's felony drug arrests (line 41 MJSPRD). This was the situation the Moscone Act was designed to alleviate.
The Moscone Act had an effect even before it officially went into effect on January 1, 1976. Its immediate effect upon passage in July 1975 was to reduce the number of felony marijuana arrests by 13,840 from their 1974 level, and by another whopping 66,473 arrests in 1976. In two years felony marijuana arrests dropped from nearly 100,000 to fewer than 20,000 (Table 7).
This caused 1976 statewide felony arrests to fall precipitously by about 75,OOO from their 1974 level (Table 7).
That is, felony marijuana arrests fell from 25 percent of statewide felony arrests in 1974 to a mere 6 percent in 1976 (line 43 MJSPRD), and from 7.22 percent of total felony-misdemeanor arrests in 1974 to only 1.41 percent in 1976 (Table 7).
The reduction of felony marijuana arrests was permanent and remains the most important effect of the Moscone Act. Felony marijuana arrests crept past 20,000 in 19809 and have leveled off at about 21,000 a year since then (Table 7).
This loss of about 80,000 felony marijuana ay-rests each year from 1976 to 1984 represents a considerable savings to the taxpayer. Cumulatively, it means that about 720,000 felony arrests and dispositions did not have to be paid for during the nine-year period.
TABLE 7. CALIFORNIA MARIJUANA ARRESTS 1972-84
Source: MJSPRD and its sources.
135) The other major effect of the Moscone Act was to increase the number of misdemeanor marijuana arrests, though the exact amount of the increase cannot be ascertained because misdemeanor marijuana arrests were not recorded in the base year period (1972-77). It is also difficult to know precisely what misdemeanor marijuana arrests were recorded from 1978 onwards, because the Moscone Act allows the issuance of a citation for possession offenses and the offender need not appear at the police station or in court where the arrest would be recorded (see Chapter III).
However, with the available information it can be stated that the overall effect of the Moscone Act was to reduce total marijuana arrests by at least 36,000 a year. This is based on the fact that in 1974 there were about 100,000 felony marijuana arrests, plus an unknown number of misdemeanor arrests, while in 1984 there were 21,350 felony marijuana arrests, plus 42,219 misdemeanor marijuana arrests, for a total of 63,569 marijuana arrests (Table 7). 100,000 felony arrests minus 63,500 total arrests indicates a reduction of at least 36,413 arrests each year.
EFFECT OF THE MOSCONE ACT ON MARIJUANA ARREST COSTS
Table 8 below summarizes the ARRCOST file appended to this report. The A. Alan Post method (see Chapter II) was used to calculate actual marijuana arrest expenditures, and the State and Local Government implicit Price Deflator (see INFLATE appendix) was used to adjust for inflation.
TABLE S. MARIJUANA ARREST COSTS 1972-84
Source: MJSPRD, ARRCOST and INFLATE appendices.
For the years immediately surrounding the Moscone Act (1973-77), including the base year 1974, misdemeanor marijuana arrest statistics are not available and the cost of making felony marijuana arrests is shown in Table 8 for those years. If misdemeanor arrests were included, the total arrests and total expenditures would be higher for those years, but the cost per arrest would probably be lower.
Between 1972 and 1984, actual expenditures for marijuana arrests rose 131 percent, from $13.2 million in 1972 to $30.5 million in 1984 (Table B). Let's look at that in two periods, the short-term effect through 1979 and the long-term effect through 1984.
The immediate effect of the Moscone Act was to reduce total marijuana arrests (felony and misdemeanor combined) from over 100,000 in 1974 to about 52,000 in 1979. As a result, actual marijuana arrest expenditures were held to approximately $14.8 million in fiscal 1978/79, a bit lower than their fiscal 1972/73 levels (Table 8).
The 1979 cost of $284.05 per marijuana arrest compares with 1974's $184.55 figure. However, in 1974 dollars the 1979 cost per arrest was only $190.89. Thus, when adjusted for inflation, a major result of the Moscone Act was a mere $6.34 increase in the cost per arrest (Table 8).
This means that during a time when statewide law enforcement costs in general were rising sharply due to inflation increasing arrest volume, and other factors, the Moscone Act held the line on marijuana arrest costs. To be precise, it was the best cost-containment measure passed by the Legislature in the 1970s: the same containment of actual and inflation adjusted expenditures cannot be discerned for any other type of crime.
The 1984 cost per marijuana arrest was $480.24, compared with $172.68 in 1972 and $184.55 in 1974. This is a 178 percent rise in expenditures per marijuana arrest since 19729 caused by reducing the number of marijuana arrests while law enforcement costs in general continued to rise (Table 8).
However, when adjusted for inflation and expressed in 1974 dollars, the cost of marijuana arrests in 1984 was $13,979,105 (line 13) or $219.90 per arrest. This is only slightly higher than the $13,220,270 spent on marijuana arrests in 1972, and is 24 percent lower than the $18,380,911 spent in the base fiscal year 1973/74.
Thus the net effect of the Moscone Act was to reduce inflation adjusted marijuana arrest expenditures by 24 percent from 1974 to 1984, and to contain marijuana arrest costs at just above their 1972 level. Again, there is no other crime in the state for which this can be said.
Nevertheless, actual expenditures for marijuana arrests have been rising steadily in the Eighties, from about $20 million in 1980 to over $30 million in 1984. Total marijuana arrests seem to have leveled off at about 639000 a year, but expenditures keep rising due to inflation and generally increased law enforcement costs.
In sum, it costs the taxpayers an average of about $500 every time someone is arrested for marijuana in California, regardless of whether that is a felony or misdemeanor arrest. This figure includes only the cost of making an arrest, not the cost of processing the offender later. This cost per marijuana arrest can be expected to continue to rise.
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