Marijuana arrestees do not become violent felons

A Human Rights Watch report calls links between pot possession and violent crime a "red herring"

Published November 26, 2012 9:42PM (EST)

Human Rights Watch published a new report indicating that people who enter the criminal justice system with an arrest for public possession of marijuana rarely commit violent crimes in the future. The report aims to highlight what it calls a "red herring," namely the purported logic underpinning the NYPD's marijuana policies, which says that marijuana arrests prevent violent crime.

"Over the last 15 years, New York City police have arrested more than 500,000 people – most of them young blacks or Hispanics – on misdemeanor charges of possessing small amounts of marijuana in public view. While Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the police have said the arrests have helped reduce violent crime, they have never specified how," HRW noted.

“Public officials need to explain exactly how placing thousands of people in cuffs each year for possessing pot reduces violent crime," said Jamie Fellner, senior adviser to the US Program at Human Rights Watch and co-author of the report.

The report used data to illustrate how few marijuana arrestees later commit violent crimes, while pointing out -- as Salon has noted on numerous occasions -- that a marijuana arrest can have ruinous consequences on a person's life. Via HRW's "A Red Herring" report:

We tracked through mid-2011 the criminal records of nearly 30,000 people without prior criminal convictions who were arrested in 2003 and 2004 for marijuana possession... We found that 3.1 percent of them were subsequently convicted of one violent felony offense during the six-and-a-half to eight-and-a-half years that our research covers; 0.4 percent had two or more violent felony convictions. That is, 1,022 persons out of the nearly 30,000 we tracked had subsequent violent felony convictions. Ninety percent (26,315) had no subsequent felony convictions of any kind.

Given that HRW's findings challenge claims by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others linking marijuana arrests to violent crime prevention, HRW recommended in its report that elected officials must "provide publicly the explanation for and supporting factual evidence establishing the oft-asserted causal connection between large numbers of arrests for marijuana possession and increased public safety and crime control."

"As long as they keep arresting people, and making them pay such a heavy price for possessing marijuana in public view, New York City officials owe the public an explanation for how those arrests contribute to public safety,” said Issa Kohler-Hausmann, co-author of the report and consultant at Human Rights Watch.


By Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email

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Crime Human Rights Watch Legalization Marijuana Marijuana Arrests Nypd