he proponents of legalizing marijuana claim that marijuana offenses prevent police from focusing on other crimes. To bolster that claim they point out the number of marijuana possession “arrests” in Nevada.
Here are the facts:
Under current Nevada law, one ounce or less of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum fine of $600. (Nevada Revised Statute 453.336) Less than the maximum fine for Driving without a Valid Drivers License.
In Nevada “possession” is defined as less than 100lbs without intent to sell. (Nevada Revised Statute 453.339)
In 2005, Only 3% of the more than 155,000 arrests made by officers statewide were for marijuana possession. (2005 Crime and Justice in Nevada , http://www.nvrepository.state.nv.us)
Only one of the nearly 11,000 inmates incarcerated by the Nevada Department of Corrections are currently serving a sentence for “possession of marijuana.” That inmate is also serving sentences for armed robbery and other drug charges. (NV Dept. of Corrections records review of current inmates)
Only 200 of the more than 17,000 offenders currently under supervision of the Nevada Division of Parole and Probation are charged with a marijuana offense. (Includes Trafficking, Sales, and Possession) (NV Division of Parole and Probation review of statewide offenders on Parole and Probation)
Nearly all marijuana possession arrests are “crimes of observation” meaning that an officer has contact with the offender, observes the possession of marijuana, and makes the arrest. In many cases, the marijuana observation is made after the officer has contact with the individual for another incident. (DUI, Domestic Violence, Disorderly Conduct, etc.)
Nearly all violent crime offenses are “crimes of investigation.” The crime is committed by the offender who is rarely apprehended at the scene. The crime is reported to the police. The suspect must be identified, probable cause must be developed, the suspect must be located and then the offender is arrested. Making an arrest for a violent crime requires all the criteria above to be met.
The proponents of legalizing marijuana have stated that more people in Nevada have been arrested for marijuana possession than violent crimes such as murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault combined. Their statement appears factual; however, it barely tells the entire story.
In 2005, there were 4,973 total adult and juvenile marijuana possession “arrests” statewide. However, at least one-third (1,730) of those arrests the offender was actually given a ticket and released leaving 3,243 physical arrests for marijuana possession. (2005 Crime and Justice in Nevada)
NOTE: The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, Nevada’s largest police agency, accounted for 2,786 (56%) of the 4,973 statewide “arrests” for marijuana possession. Of the arrests reported by the LVMPD, 1,730 persons (nearly 2/3) were issued misdemeanor citations (tickets) for possession of marijuana one ounce or less and released. (LVMPD Uniform Crime Report, 2005)
Violent offenders don’t get tickets. In 2005, there were 4,333 physical arrests for violent crimes, far more than the number of physical marijuana possession arrests. (2005 Crime and Justice in Nevada)
Additionally, nearly 2000 of the marijuana possession arrests were persons under the age of 21. Legalizing marijuana for adults 21 and older would not eliminate those arrests. (2005 Crime and Justice in Nevada)
In 2005, according to Nevada POST, the agency responsible for certying all peace officers with arrest powers statewide, there were nearly 9,000 full-time sworn law enforcement officers. Marijuana possession “arrests” in Nevada amount to one arrest per every two officers in the state.
LVMPD officers were dispatched to more than one million “calls for service” which resulted in 91,000 arrest in 2005. Marijuana possession arrests accounted for less than 1/2 of one percent of the LVMPD’s calls for service.(LVMPD Computer Assisted Dispatch records, 2005)
Clearly police resources are not being wasted on marijuana possession.