Data Tracker

Misdemeanor drug arrests plummet following marijuana law change

By Phillip Reese -

The number of misdemeanor drug arrests in California fell by nearly 50 percent over the last five years as legislation reduced possession of a small amount of marijuana to an infraction, new state figures show.

About 72,000 Californians were busted for misdemeanor drug crimes last year, compared to 133,000 in 2007.

Misdemeanor drug arrests were already on the decline when the state legislature in 2011 changed adult possession of up to 28.5 grams of marijuana for nonmedical purposes from a criminal misdemeanor to an infraction, punishable by a fine of less than $100. Under the law, marijuana infractions come with no required court appearances and don't appear on a person's criminal record - much like a traffic ticket.

In 2010, just before the new law went into effect, law enforcement in the state made about 55,000 misdemeanor marijuana arrests -- or about 150 such arrests a day. The State Department of Justice does not release data on infractions, so its not clear how many marijuana tickets cops issued in the last two years.

Felony drug arrests -- usually reserved for traffickers or those in possession of a large quantity of illegal drugs - were also down by about 15 percent from 2007 to 2012, according to the state Department of Justice. Both misdemeanor and felony drug arrests rose slightly from 2011 to 2012, along with most other types of crime.

This chart shows misdemeanor drug arrests in California from 2007 to 2012.

Source: California Department of Justice