The focus of the nation’s drug war has shifted significantly over the past decade from hard drugs to marijuana, which now accounts for nearly half of all drug arrests nationwide says a study of FBI data by the Washington, D.C.-based Sentencing Project, the Washington Post reports. The proportion of heroin and cocaine cases fell from 55 percent of all drug arrests in 1992 to under 30 percent 10 years later. During the same period, marijuana arrests rose from 28 percent of the total to 45 percent.
Drug arrests rose from under 1.1 million in 1990 to more than 1.5 million a decade later. Eighty percent of that increase came from marijuana arrests. The increase has not had a significant impact on prisons, because just 6 percent of the arrests resulted in felony convictions, the study said. The most widely quoted household survey on the topic has shown relatively little change in the overall rate of marijuana use over the same time period. Bush administration officials attribute the shift to factors that include increased pot use among teenagers during parts of the 1990s; efforts by local police departments to focus more on street-level offenses; and growing concerns over the danger posed by modern, more potent versions of marijuana. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy issued a study yesterday showing that youth who use marijuana are more likely to develop serious mental health problems. “This is not Cheech and Chong marijuana,” said David Murray, a policy analyst for the drug office. “It’s a qualitatively different drug, and that’s reflected in the numbers.”