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Summary --



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


DEDICATED To the Memory of GEORGE R. MOSCONE Who Designed the Legislation


  • 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 skyrocketed.
    • 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 for possession.
  • 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 years.)
  • 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.


  • 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.
  • 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 analysis.
  • 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.
  • 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 institution costs.)
  • 22. It is rare that a single legal change has such an immediate and drastic effect on arrests and enforcement costs in a state.


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