U.S. taxpayers spend an estimated $7.6 billion a year on criminal trials and law enforcement activities to combat marijuana activities, yet policies are failing to control the use and sale of the drug, according to a study released this month.
The report, issued by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, also asserts that arrests for marijuana possession and sales disproportionately hit blacks and young people, with 74 percent of all marijuana possession arrests nationwide being people under 30.
But one law enforcement officer in central Maine and a state prosecutor in Augusta said Thursday the data are skewed and do not reflect the way policies are implemented in this state. They said such a national organization cannot possibly know how things are done in Maine.
According to the report, titled "Crimes of Indiscretion: Marijuana Arrests in the United States," $26.3 million was spent on marijuana policies in 2000 in Maine, the latest year of available data.
The state ranked 20th in the nation in the amount of cultivated marijuana eradicated, based on 2003 U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency statistics; and 18th in arrests per 100,000 population.
Franklin County recorded the highest arrest rate per 100,000 people -- about 508 -- followed by Knox, Waldo, Androscoggin and York counties, according to the study.
Somerset County, home of marijuana advocates the Maine Vocals and the annual Hempstock Festival in Starks, had the lowest arrest rate per 100,000 people -- about 131. Somerset was preceded by Hancock, Oxford, Lincoln and Aroostook counties, the report shows.
Kennebec County ranked 11th of Maine's 16 counties.
The organization's executive director, Allen St. Pierre, called the report an indictment of marijuana policy, saying that current strategies fail when measured against the federal government's drug use and public health indicators.
He said statistics show marijuana arrests rose 165 percent in the 1990s, with little success in stemming the use of and demand for marijuana.
"Public policies are measured by their ability to produce intended results," St. Pierre said in the report. "The stated goal of criminal marijuana prohibition is to deter marijuana use and promote public health.
"As the data show, the current prohibition-oriented policy clearly does neither."
St. Pierre added that enforcement of state and local marijuana laws unnecessarily costs American taxpayers millions of dollars each year and has a disproportionately greater effect on the lives of young people and blacks. He said current policies encourage "approximately 1 million teenagers to become entrepreneurs in the criminal drug trade."
Lt. Carl Gottardi, criminal division supervisor at the Somerset County Sheriff's Department, said the report is flawed in several ways.
He said the study's findings on arrests for marijuana do not take into account the number on summonses issued for the same offenses. Gottardi added that police concentration on marijuana, along with other drugs, cannot possibly encourage the drug trade as the study reports.
"I don't know where they would have gotten their statistics from. They are faulty statistics," Gottardi said. "Over the past 20 years, we have been one of the leading agencies who have been involved in marijuana activities, as well as other drugs."
Gottardi said until five years ago, most of his division's drug investigations concentrated on marijuana. Since then, he said, only about 30 percent of enforcement activity centers on the drug.
He said the data on arrests do not reflect what goes on in Somerset County or elsewhere in Maine.
"A lot of times we summons people instead of bring them to jail; that won't show up on the statistics," Gottardi said. "The majority of our reports show summonses. They should look at how many are charged and how many are convicted. We don't have a policy saying we have to arrest people."
Gottardi added that when it comes to youth and drug use, marijuana, in terms of sales and use, is a gateway to other stronger drugs such as crack cocaine and heroin, which also are easier to traffic.
"You're not going to hide 10 pounds of marijuana in your underwear," he said.
Gottardi added that special drug details, equipment and overtime pay for investigators do not come from local taxpayers; they come from money seized in previous drug raids.
Assistant Attorney General James Cameron agreed with Gottardi, adding that Maine has some of the most liberal marijuana laws in the nation, another fact that tarnishes the data presented by the marijuana law reform group.
"I would agree that if they are looking at arrests versus summonses, they are looking at statistics that don't really reflect anything significant," Cameron said. "More people are summonsed than are arrested."
Cameron added that Maine has decriminalized possession of marijuana for personal use, further marginalizing the study's findings. Anyone holding 11/4 ounce of marijuana or less is issued a ticket for a civil fine, not a criminal trial, he said.