ACLU Report Says Marijuana Laws Discriminate Against Blacks

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Graphic from the new ACLU report "The War on Marijuana: In Black and White:"

The War on Marijuana: In Black and White / ACLU

Graphic from the new ACLU report "The War on Marijuana: In Black and White:"

A report released by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) earlier this week found that in 2010, African-Americans were approximately four times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession — this, despite that fact that national data indicates the two populations use marijuana at nearly the same rates.

Furthermore, in several states, including Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota, the ACLU said African-Americans were busted for pot at rates from 7.5 to 8 times higher than whites.

Regardless of region, the ACLU reports that these discrepancies in arrest rate by race remain consistent. “In over 96 percent of counties with more than 30,000 people in which at least 2 percent of the residents are black,” the report reads, “blacks are arrested at higher rates than whites for marijuana possession.”

Overall, New York, Texas, California, Florida and Illinois were found to have the highest rates of marijuana possession arrests. In almost half of all states, the ACLU found that possession offenses accounted for more than 90 percent of marijuana arrests. The rate fell below 80 percent in only seven states, while just two states — Minnesota and Massachusetts — had possession arrest rates lower than 65 percent of all statewide pot offenses.

With police data collected from all 50 states, the new ACLU report is one of the most comprehensive analyses of marijuana arrests in the nation ever compiled. According to the new data, 88 percent of the more than 8 million marijuana arrests tallied up from 2001 until 2010 were for possession. With costs stemming from policing, adjudicating and incarcerating individuals for violations, the ACLU claims that states squander an estimated $3.6 billion a year in enforcing marijuana laws.

Graphic from the new ACLU report "The War on Marijuana: In Black and White:"

The War on Marijuana: In Black and White / ACLU

Graphic from the new ACLU report "The War on Marijuana: In Black and White:"

In 2010, the ACLU states that more than half of all drug arrest in the nation were for marijuana; that same year, the group estimates that police officials made a marijuana arrest every 37 seconds.

In addition to discovering major racial discrepancies in national marijuana arrest rates, the new report appears to reveal similar discrepancies regarding the ages of those arrested for pot. Sixty-two percent of individuals arrested for marijuana possession, the ACLU reports, are under the age of 24, while more than a third of the nation’s marijuana possession arrests can be attributed to teenagers, the latest data indicates.

Additionally, the ACLU calls for police departments to end “stop and frisk” and other racial profiling policies, while similarly placing a lesser emphasis on COMPSTAT (comparative statistics) policing, which they argue unfairly targets minority communities.

According to the authors of the report, the most sensible approach to curb marijuana-related incarcerations is to completely legalize the drug, nationwide.

“Legalization would, first and foremost, eliminate the unfair race- and community-targeted enforcement of marijuana criminal laws [and] help reduce over incarceration in our jails,” the report states.

“At a time when states are facing budget shortfalls, legalizing marijuana makes fiscal sense,” the report continues, arguing that the licensing and taxing of marijuana would allow states to save millions in annual expenses and allow communities to potentially reinvest education and substance abuse treatment alternatives to imprisonment.


“The aggressive enforcement of marijuana possession laws needlessly ensnares hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal justice system, crowds our jails, is carried out in a racially biased manner, wastes millions of taxpayers’ dollars and has not reduced marijuana use or availability,” the report concludes. “It is time for marijuana possession arrests to end.”

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