Fox News' Bill O'Reilly denied the “mass arrest” of casual marijuana users in the U.S. and claimed that only “stealers” have been arrested in the war on drugs.
On January 6 O'Reilly featured a segment in which he asked, “is America becoming a weaker nation because of pot and internet abuse?” When Fox contributor Juan Williams confronted O'Reilly with the facts about arrests of casual marijuana users, O'Reilly asserted that users of marijuana are not being arrested in large numbers and that he's “just going to discount” Williams' argument.
O'REILLY: Let's begin with the left. What is it about the drug culture, the internet culture, that's so compelling for some of them?
WILLIAMS: Well, I don't think it's compelling, but I think that if you start to arrest their children and give them records and put barriers in front of their futures and their careers, I think people say wait a second. As you said in the previous segment, this is soft drug use, why are you arresting and giving this kid a record, especially minority kids disproportionately. They're the ones who get arrested.
O'REILLY: Only stealers, Juan, there's no mass arrests of users.
WILLIAMS: No, no, no, Bill.
MARY KATHARINE HAM [Fox contributor]: No, users [are] arrested.
O'REILLY: No, they get a ticket, Juan.
WILLIAMS: I don't think that's right, Bill.
O'REILLY: No, it is right.
WILLIAMS: And I think lots of people fear for their children. By the way, you should know, it's not just liberals --
O'REILLY: So by your thinking then, people fear for their children so they want to make drugs more available. Let's legalize them so they don't get a rap sheet.
WILLIAMS: No, no, no, I didn't say that. I didn't say more available. I said, listen, the kid gets out there --
O'REILLY: So what happens when drugs are legalized?
WILLIAMS: -- the kid's involved in soft drugs, by your own definition, gets arrested, suddenly he's got a record, all sorts of things that would inhibit his or her progress in life.
O'REILLY: It's almost impossible, the records are expunged if they are juveniles.
O'REILLY: You know what the game is here. This is not a crime that is actively pursued by district attorneys. All right. I'm just going to discount that argument, Juan.
But data from the FBI on marijuana-related arrests in the U.S. contradicts O'Reilly's assertion. According to the FBI, marijuana possession accounted for 42.4 percent of all drug arrests in 2012. The following graph shows that since 1995, more than one-third, and sometimes nearly half, of all drug arrests were for just possessing marijuana:
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, more than 7 million people were arrested between 2001 and 2010 for marijuana possession:
As Williams noted, minorities are disproportionately arrested for marijuana possession. As the ACLU noted, even though young white and black Americans use it at similar rates, young black Americans are nearly four times as likely to be arrested for it.
And as the ACLU explained in a June 2013 report titled “The War on Marijuana in Black and White,” an arrest for casual marijuana use can have a severe impact on someone's future:
The price paid by those arrested and convicted of marijuana possession can be signifcant and linger for years, if not a lifetime. Arrests and convictions for possessing marijuana can negatively impact public housing and student financial aid eligibility, employment opportunities, child custody determinations, and immigration status.