California Arrest and Prisoner Data

Marijuana Arrests in California 1960-2011

Over 20,000 Arrested in California on Marijuana Charges in 2013
According to the Attorney General, there were 13,779 felony marijuana arrests in California in 2013, slightly more than in 2012. Marijuana misdemeanor arrests came in at 6,567 in 2013 vs. 7,768 in 2013. The vast majority of misdemeanor arrests were for those under 18 (4,572). Read more.

Marijuana Arrest Figures from 2012 Released by Attorney General's Office
According to the report, there were 13,434 felony marijuana arrests in California in 2012, continuing a downward trend from 14,082 in 2011. Hispanics were the most-arrested ethnic group, with 4953 felony arrests, followed by whites (4617), blacks (2745) and other races (1119).
Misdemeanor marijuana arrests took a nosedive in 2011 because under an ounce became an infraction that year; infractions are not tallied in the AG's report. Marijuana misdemeanor arrests came in at 7768 in 2012, almost identical to the number in 2011 (7764).

Misdemeanor Marijuana Arrests in California Drop 85% in 2011
Number of Infraction Citations Not Known

As of January 1, 2011, possession of an ounce or less of marijuana was demoted from a misdemeanor to an infraction. The state doesn't keep track of infractions, so as expected, there was a precipitous drop in the number of possession arrests in the 2011.  

In 2011, according to the California Attorney General's office, misdemeanor arrests for marijuana fell from 54,849 in 2010 to just 7,764 in 2011. Subtracting the nearly 50,000 arrests means the total number of drug arrests in California fell 40% from 112,085 in 2010 to 69,315 in 2011. Felony arrests for marijuana fell to 14,082 in 2011 from 16,585 in 2010.

Juvenile arrest data from 2011 shows 1,952 felony arrests and 5,831 misdemeanors for marijuana among those under 18. This is quite a drop from the 14,991 misdemeanor arrests for marijuana among juveniles in 2010, but again, we don't know how many infractions there were. Felony arrests for juveniles are nearly equal in the two years, with 2,206 in 2010. Racial disparities are the same (predominantly Hispanic with Whites running second). Most go to probation.

Also see: Marijuana decriminalization law brings down juvenile arrests in California

Marijuana Arrests Decline in California in 2010
September 14, 2011 - California reported a moderate decline in marijuana arrests in 2010, according to the latest figures from the Criminal Justice Statistics Center.

The number of marijuana prisoners has held more or less steady in California since the height of the drug war in the late 1980s, despite the passage of Prop. 215. There are now over 14 times as many marijuana prisoners in California as in 1980. This does not count federal prisoners, such as Dr. Mollie Fry and Dale Schafer, Bryan Epis, Eddy Lepp, DC Costa, Virgil Grant, Kenneth Affotler, Luke Scarmazzo and Ricardo Montes, all of whom are serving mandatory minimums of at least five years for medical marijuana.

Altogether, the state held 24,959 prisoners for inherently non-violent drug offenses at latest count; 8,587 of them for simple possession of controlled substances other than marijuana.

California's prison overcrowding can thus be largely attributed to the drug laws, a modern innovation that did not exist prior to the 20th century.

There are signs that the high tide of drug prohibition may be waning. Drug offenders currently account for 15% of all inmates in state prison, a substantial reduction from the all-time high of 28% in 1999, the year before California approved Prop. 36, which mandated treatment instead of prison for minor possession offenders. Since then, the number of drug prisoners has continued to decline, dropping by fully 20% in the two years since 2008.

Also see:

California Holds 1,401 Marijuana Prisoners As Supreme Court Orders Prison Cuts
May 24, 2011 - As the US Supreme Court ordered California to release 30,000 prisoners, the state held 1,401 prisoners for inherently non-violent marijuana felonies, according to the most recent statistics from the Department of Corrections (Dec. 31, 2010).

  • California Marijuana Arrests Remain Near Record Levels in 2009 (9/1/2010)

  • Marijuana Arrests Up Again in California (10/25/2009)

  • Record Jump in Marijuana Arrests in California (9/19/08)

  • Upswing in California marijuana prisoners reported in 2005.

  • California's Flood of Pot Prisoners (2001)

  • California marijuana arrests 1960-2001. A sharp decline in felony marijuana arrests since decriminalization in 1975 saved the state an estimated $100 million per year in arrest, prosecution and prison costs.

  • California marijuana arrest statistics (2002). African-Americans overrepresented by a factor of five in felony marijuana charges.