Michael R. Aldrich, Ph.D.
Tod H. Mikuriya, M.D.
Gordon S. Brownell, J.D.
Copyright 1986, MEDI-COMP PRESS, 1168 Sterling Avenue, Berkeley, California 94708
PRELIMINARY ONLY NOT FOR PUBLICATION JUNE 15, 1986
DEDICATED To the Memory of GEORGE R. MOSCONE Who Designed the Legislation
SUMMARY OF PRELIMINARY REPORT
- 1. This is not a study of marijuana users or their behavior, but a study of the activity
of police, courts, and prisons.
- 2. In 1974 we did a study for the California Senate which showed that it was costing
about $100 million a year (1972) to enforce the marijuana laws. This compares with 1960,
when only about $8 million was spent for this.
- 3. THREE MAIN REASONS for escalation of costs in 1960s:
- 1) A MAJOR CHANGE IN DRUG OFFENDER CHARACTERISTICS. In 1960 the typical person arrested
for drugs in California was a 26-year-old Hispanic heroin addict from Los Angeles, with a
long criminal record. By 1967 the typical drug offender was a 19-year-old white marijuana
smoker with no criminal record, often a middle-class youth -from the suburbs.
- 2) ARREST VOLUME. In 1962 there were 3,743 marijuana arrests in the state. In 1967 there
were ten times as many (37,514). By 1972 there were 76,561, of which 73,000 were felony
arrests. By 1974 there were nearly 100,000 felony marijuana arrests statewide.
- 3) FELONY STATUS of POSSESSION OFFENSES. The most frequent marijuana offense was
possession of a small amount, and it was a felony. By 1974, one-fourth of all the felony
arrests in California were for marijuana.
- This meant that: POLICE RESOURCES, formerly concentrated on Los Angeles heroin addicts,
now had to be spread statewide to a much more diverse and less visible populations and
many departments had to add narcotics officers to their staff. The sheer volume of arrests
greatly increased law enforcement costs statewide.
- Also: COURT COSTS, especially in Superior Court where felonies are adjudicated, rose
dramatically as thousands of felony marijuana possession cases created a logjam in the
courts. Prosecutors and judges found it difficult to send 19-yearold first offenders to
prison for possession, and conviction rates fell.
- In sum, thousands of young people were arrested on -felony charges each year. All had to
be processed through the criminal justice system, and criminal justice agency costs
- One-fourth of the felony arrests in California were for marijuana and it was costing the
state $100 million a year to process marijuana offenders.
- This was the situation the Moscone Law of 1975 was designed to alleviate.
- 4. There were several legislative attempts to deal with this problem by allowing felony
marijuana possession cases to be processed in the lower courts. These were TEMPORARILY
successful in reducing congestion in Superior Courts, but could not solve the essential
problem, that thousands of young people were being fed into the criminal justice system
because possession was still classified as a felony.
- 5. Two important influences on legislative policy during this period were the 1972
RECOMMENDATION OF THE NATIONAL COMMISSION on Marihuana and Drug Abuse that marijuana
possession be decriminalized, and the 1972 CALIFORNIA MARIJUANA INITIATIVE, which would
have decriminalized possession avid cultivation for personal use. CMI was defeated
statewide, but garnered 34% of the vote, providing new impetus to repeal felony penalties
- 6. THE MOSCONE ACT. After two years of hearings and a thorough investigation by a Senate
Select Committee chaired by Senate Majority Leader George Moscone, a compromise was
reached among legislators who would not accept complete legalization of marijuana. The
essence of the Moscone Act (passed in 1975, took effect Pages January 1, 1976) was to
reduce possession of small amounts 25-27 of marijuana FROM A FELONY TO A NEW TYPE OF
MISDEMEANOR, in which a citation is issued to the offender rather than arrest and booking;
and for which the MAXIMUM PENALTY is a $100 fine instead of jail or prison.
- 7. The EFFECT OF THE MOSCONE ACT ON LAW ENFORCEMENT COSTS in California is what we are
examining in our new study. We have not completed the DISPOSITIONS part of our study yet,
but this is a preliminary report on its effect in regard to the COSTS OF MAKING ARRESTS.
- S. GRAPH MJFM6084 - CALIFORNIA MARIJUANA ARRESTS 1960-84. This graph shows the effect of
the Moscone Act on marijuana 29-31 arrests. FELONY arrests fell dramatically from about
100,000 in 1974 to about 20,000 in 1976-- a drop of about 8O,000.
- MISDEMEANOR marijuana arrests leaped from about 3500 in 1972 to about 35,000 in 1978.
(Unfortunately misdemeanor marijuana arrests were not recorded between 1972 and 1977 so we
can't be more precise about the number of misdemeanor or total marijuana arrests for those
- So the CUMULATIVE effect of the Moscone Act was to reduce total marijuana arrests from
more than 100,000 a year to below 64,000 in the 1980s-- a reduction of at least 36,OOO
arrests a year.
EFFECTS OF THE MOSCONE ACT ON MARIJUANA ARREST COSTS
- 9. The method we have used to calculate marijuana arrest costs was invented in 1972 by
A. ALAN POST, then the Legislative Analyst for the State of California. After consultation
with law enforcement agencies Post determined that about one-fourth of a police officer's
time is devoted to investigating and making arrests. Therefore one-fourth of law
enforcement budgets were expended on making arrests.
- Thus, the percentage of total arrests which were for marijuana could be applied to
one-fourth of state law enforcement expenditures., for a reasonable approximation of the
cost of making marijuana arrests.
- The law enforcement costs included in this calculation are the expenditures of county
and state police, sheriffs' departments and the California Highway Patrol.
- These law enforcement ARREST costs should not be confused with the total amount of money
spent in processing offenders through the criminal justice system. It does not include the
costs of prosecution public defenders, the courts, or penal institutions. In 19729 for
instance the arrest costs were only $13.2 million of the total $100 million expended.
- 10. GRAPH ARRCOSTS- ACTUAL MARIJUANA ARREST EXPENDITURES 73-84. In 1972, there were
76,561 marijuana arrests. The cost of making these arrests was $13.2 MILLION, or about
$173 per arrest. By 1974, with nearly 100,000 felony marijuana arrests, the cost had risen
to $18.4 MILLION, or $185 per arrest.
- 11. Then we discovered that the Moscone Act, which was passed in July 1975 but did not
take effect until January, 1976, had a surprising effect even before it officially took
effect. Its passage sent a message to police around the state that possession was no
longer going to be considered a felony, and marijuana arrests dropped sharply -for the
last six months of 1975.
- This caused a slight $129000 drop in 1975 marijuana arrest costs, but because law
enforcement expenditures in general were rising while the number of marijuana arrests was
falling, the cost per marijuana arrest rose to $214.
- 12. Then in 1976, directly as a result of the new law, marijuana arrest expenditures
fell to $4.5 MILLION, or $235 per arrest. That same year, 1976, statewide felony arrests
dropped by about 75,000. Most of this decrease was marijuana arrests.
- 13. The nosedive in arrest costs continued in 1977, down to $4.3 MILLION. The costs of
misdemeanor marijuana arrests are not included because the arrest statistics are not
available. Still, a savings of $14 million a year ($28 million in two years) in felony
arrest costs is a considerable achievement for a single legal change.
- 14. In 1978, when misdemeanor marijuana arrests again began to be counted, arrest costs
rose to $14.9 MILLION, or $282 per arrest. This was still lower than the $18 million a
year being spent before the Moscone Act. It took another two years until 1980, for arrest
costs to pass their pre-Moscone level.
- 15. IN THE 1980s, California marijuana arrests have levelled off at about 64,000 a year,
of which about 20-22,000 are felonies (mostly sale) and about 42-44,000 are misdemeanors.
Even though arrests have levelled off, law enforcement costs in general have continued to
rise because of inflation and many other reasons, including the continued expansion of
police forces and all other criminal justice agencies.
- 16. Thus by 1984, marijuana arrest costs have risen to about $30.5 MILLION a year, or
nearly $500 ($480.24) per arrest. This is a 131 PERCENT RISE in actual expenditures since
1972 when marijuana arrest costs were $13.2 million.
- 17. INFLATION-ADJUSTED MARIJUANA ARREST EXPENDITURES.
- In order to understand the real savings attributable to the Moscone Act, it is necessary
to account for inflation. We have done this by using the "State and Local Government
Implicit Price Deflator" which is routinely used by government agencies in budget
- 18. GRAPH INFARRCO (inflation-adjusted arrest costs).
- As the graph shows in 1974 dollars, marijuana arrest costs have still not risen above
their pre-Moscone level. 1984 inflation-adjusted expenditures on marijuana arrests were
about $14 million, 24 percent below the $18 million spent in 1974 and just slightly more
than was spent in 1975.
- In fact, the 1984 inflation-adjusted expenditures are only slightly more than the $13.2
million actually expended in 1972.
- 19. Graph PRISPOP - MARIJUANA FELONS IN PRISON.
- Although we have not completed the Dispositions part of our study the California
Department of Corrections has made available to us the total number of marijuana felons in
prison each year between 1972 and 1984.
- This graph shows one of the most dramatic effects of the the Moscone Act-- a massive
drop in the number of people in state prison for felony marijuana offenses.
- In 1973 there were 668 such prisoners, the highest number in California history.
- In 1980, largely because the Moscone Act and other measures had reduced the number of
felony marijuana offenders being fed into prison through Superior Court, the number of
marijuana prisoners dropped to only 98-- the lowest number in recent state history.
- Recently (1984), with about 21,000 felony marijuana arrests being made for sale,
possession for sale and cultivation each year, the number of marijuana felons in prison
has risen to 327 -- exactly ten more than there were in 1975.
- Thus the Moscone Act did the same for marijuana prisoner populations that it did for
arrest costs-- it contained them at just above their 1975 level (when the law was passed).
- 20. 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
about their 1975 level (when the bill was passed). There is no other crime in the state
for which this can be said.
- 21. The most important single effect of the Moscone Act was to reduce the number of
felony marijuana arrests by about 80,000 a year. This reduction was permanent and
represents a considerable savings to the taxpayer.
- Cumulatively, it means that about 720,000 felony marijuana arrests and dispositions did
not have to be paid for during the nine-year period 1976 - 1984, nor an additional 80,000
per year since then.
- In 1984 dollars, with every marijuana arrest costing about $500, that means the Moscone
Act saved the taxpayers around $360 MILLION between 1976 and 1984 in felony arrest costs.
- (This does not include any prosecutor public defender, court disposition.., or penal
- 22. It is rare that a single legal change has such an immediate and drastic effect on
arrests and enforcement costs in a state.