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What Would Happen if We Stopped Arresting People for Possession of Cannabis?


The last two months have presented a global social and economic disruption on a level never seen before. In its breadth and sweep, it is arguably the greatest single “event” in American history, at least since the Civil War. There is no shortage of conspiracy theories, some of which have already been proven to be true. For cannabis consumers this comes as less of a shock since we have been the victims of one of the most outrageous conspiracies ever perpetrated on the American people. Like most good conspiracies, the “disinformation” that justified the decades long prohibition were in plain sight the whole time but dismissed by our power elite and ignored by most of the voting public who were all too eager to sop up even the most ridiculous proclamations from our elected leaders and their big corporate donors, profiteering off of the misery of prohibition. We know who you are. And let us not forget the role of law enforcement agencies in perpetuating the demonization of cannabis just so they could keep a good job.

It is no exaggeration to say that cannabis prohibition was what provided the very foundation of the drug war and the American prison industrial complex that grew up around it. Sadly, in order to focus maximum resources on the persecution of cannabis consumers, the “justice” system decided to ignore the investigation of far more dangerous violent and sexual crimes. Not surprisingly, the numbers of those kinds of crimes dramatically increased in America. But our government insisted that it was all worth it because marijuana was the greatest danger to America that we had ever faced, perhaps equaled only by communism. But like communism, we were told by our trusted leaders that cannabis use was to also be considered as an existential threat to America. It was so ludicrous that we coined a name for this false propaganda decades ago: “Reefer Madness.”

They are still out there today, the proponents of prohibition, clinging desperately to as much prohibition as they can still coax out of an ever-shrinking pool of ignorant and fearful American voters. These are the folks that just cannot seem to accept that our trusted governmental and corporate leaders have been lying to the public for all this time. But the COVID-19 pandemic has given these half-wit voters a glimpse of what it would be like to live in a world without marijuana laws. During this pandemic cannabis sales skyrocketed, and the enforcement of cannabis laws has almost completely stopped. In many places, around the country arrest numbers have plummeted and police leaders have been frank about ordering officers to cease arresting for low-level crimes. Consider this article about Indiana appearing in TheCr.com on May 1, 2020: “The sheriff’s office is making fewer arrests to combat the spread of disease, [Jay County Sheriff] Ford said. For those charged with most non-violent misdemeanors and drug-related Level 6 felonies, court summons are being issued instead of them being arrested.” And this piece from Austin, Texas with some more specifics: “Austin posted the fewest number of arrests in the month of March for at least four years…. Some of the largest declines include a 75% drop in traffic warrant arrests, to 33 arrests this March from 132 arrests in March 2019. A similar drop was also seen in the number of those arrested and charged with possession of marijuana.” In some places, prosecutors are refusing to pursue such cases. For example, Philadelphia police have been ordered to avoid arrests for crimes like drug offenses and burglaries. Instead, they are issuing warrants to be processed once the health crisis abates, according to reporting by the Associated Press. Closer to home, according to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, from March 9-13, a full 749 criminal complaints were filed in Maricopa County courts. From April 20-24, however, that number had plummeted to a total of a mere 107 complaints filed.

Cannabis has been declared an essential commodity during the pandemic restrictions in many states and it appears to be helping. It certainly is not hurting. For example, the people protesting the government’s shutdown restrictions are not disproportionately cannabis consumers. There is no correlation between civil unrest or domestic violence and cannabis use. In fact, there is much evidence to suggest the contrary. Of course, we have known this all along.

COVID-19 has given us a lot of tragedy and misery, but it may just give us a couple rays of sunshine, as well. One of the potential silver linings of the lockdown is the fact that America has now seen what life would be like without cannabis prohibition. So far so good. The rate of people jumping out of windows has not increased as a result of cannabis. Let us hope that we come out of this thing in time to vote for cannabis legalization this November in Arizona and elsewhere. Whatever happens, we cannot let things ever be the same. The title of this article is “What Would Happen if We Stopped Arresting People for Possession of Cannabis?” The answer is at a minimum: “Nothing bad.” And isn’t that what we need them to understand? That nothing bad will happen by cannabis becoming legal? Sure, there are many positive aspects of cannabis legalization, but we don’t have to sell it. Instead, from now on we should simply say about cannabis legalization to our fellow voters: “What do you have to lose?”




Tom Dean has been a criminal defense lawyer since 1993 and has been winning marijuana cases in Arizona for over 20 years. Tom has represented persons charged with every kind of marijuana offense, including cultivation, transportation, sales, extraction, DUI, and simple possession. For more information about Tom Dean, visit his website.

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