Study Shows Racial Bias in PA Pot Arrests

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Photo by Carlos Garcia via Flickr

Black adults in Pennsylvania were eight times more likely than white adults to be arrested for marijuana possession last year, says an American Civil Liberties Union analysis reported by Compared with 2010, the study showed a substantial  increase in marijuana possession arrests even as the state legalizes medical marijuana and national sentiment has moved toward acceptance of the drug. The disparity between arrests of black and white people also rose; it was 5.7-to-1 in 2011. The data did not include Philadelphia, where a decriminalization measure was signed in 2014, and arrests were down 88 percent last year from 2010. Even in the city, three times as many black adults were arrested as white. “The simple fact to me is when you leave things up to being subjective, racial bias will prevail. I think these numbers show exactly that,” said State Rep. Jordan Harris a proponent of marijuana legalization.

Advocates said the study bolsters the argument for legalizing marijuana to end the incarceration and the fining of people for pot offenses that they argue disproportionately affect people of color. Taxpayers have paid more than $225 million since 2010 for marijuana enforcement, the study said. Data show that marijuana use is essentially equal across races. Yet in Bucks County in 2016, 1,400 black adults were arrested for marijuana possession per 100,000 compared with 200 white adults per 100,000. In Montgomery County, the figures were 1,200 black adults compared to fewer than 200 white adults per 100,000. The ACLU suggests that legalization is the only solution to ending the disproportionate crackdown on pot — eliminating “unnecessary jail time, fines, and license suspensions related to marijuana convictions” that can affect student loans, jobs, child custody battles, and immigration proceedings.

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