‘A Tale of Two Countries’: Racial Disparity in Marijuana Arrests

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African Americans are 3.6 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession although they have comparable marijuana usage rates, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

“Despite several states having reformed marijuana policy over the last decade, far too much has remained unchanged when it comes to racial disparities in arrests,”  the ACLU said in a report released  Monday.

ACLU researchers found that in 10 states, African Americans were more than five times more likely to be arrested for marijuana-related offenses.

Although the total number of people arrested for marijuana possession has decreased in the past decade, law enforcement still made 6.1 million such arrests over that period, and the racial disparities in arrest rates remain in every state, according to the report.

“In every state, and in over 96 percent of the counties examined, black people were much more likely to be arrested than white people for marijuana possession,” said the ACLU.

The report, “A Tale of Two Countries: Racially Targeted Arrests in the Era of Marijuana Reform,” details marijuana possession arrests from 2010 to 2018, and updates the ACLU’s national report published in 2013, The War on Marijuana in Black and White.

“Many state and local governments across the country continue to aggressively enforce marijuana laws, disproportionately targeting black communities,” said Ezekiel Edwards, director of the Criminal Law Reform Project at the ACLU and one of the primary authors of the report.

“Criminalizing people who use marijuana needlessly entangles hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal legal system every year at a tremendous individual and societal cost,” Edwards said.

“As a matter of racial justice and sound public health policy, every state in the country must legalize marijuana with racial equity at the foundation of such reform.”

To combat “the racial disparities rampant in marijuana-related arrests,” the ACLU is calling for an end to racialized policing, full legalization of marijuana use and possession, and “specific measures to ensure legalization efforts are grounded in racial justice.”

The full research report can be read here.

This summary was prepared by Nancy Bilyeau, deputy editor of The Crime Report.

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