Thousands of People Still Being Jailed For Pot-Related Crimes in California

By Paul Gaita 11/07/16

A new study breaks down marijuana-related incarceration rates throughout California from 2010 to 2015.

Thousands of People Still Being Jailed For Pot-Related Crimes in California

As Californians prepare to vote on legalizing marijuana for recreational use on Nov. 8, a new study makes the case for the need for Proposition 64 by showing that police are still sending thousands of people to jail for possession, despite decriminalization efforts enacted in 2010.

The research, conducted by the Drug Policy Alliance, examined incarceration rates in 12 counties since then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger passed SB 1449, which reduced penalties for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana from a misdemeanor to an infraction. The counties that responded to the survey, which include Los Angeles and Orange counties, represent nearly half (47%) of the state’s population.

The study found that in 2015 alone, 2,139 people in California were sent to jail for crimes associated with marijuana. That number represents a slight dip—by about 21%—in the number of individuals jailed in the year the measure was passed. This lends credence to statements from supporters of Prop 64, who dismiss claims that SB 1449 already effectively legalized marijuana in California.

And the language in Prop 64 already shows that there will be no free pass for individuals arrested for marijuana possession. Anyone caught with more than an ounce is still subject to a possible $500 fine and six months in jail.

“One of the things that we have been hearing a lot in this debate from opponents is that nobody goes to jail for marijuana offenses,” said John Kagia, an executive vice president at New Frontier Data, which conducted the research for the Drug Policy Alliance. “This settles that argument. That is not true. We have the hard data from the counties.”

Andrew Acosta, a spokesperson for opponents of Prop 64, labeled the findings as “not done by an independent organization” and therefore declined to comment on the findings.

“Regardless, as we have stated throughout this campaign, arrests for marijuana offenses have dropped dramatically since 2010, and as of today, there is not one single person in California’s prisons solely for simple marijuana possession,” said Acosta.

Despite these opposing viewpoints, more than half of California residents who responded to a recent USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll—58%—are in support of Prop 64, while just 37% of respondents were opposed to the measure.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.