U.S.: Blacks Singled Out For Marijuana Arrests Four Times More Often Than Whites
By Steve Elliott
In the United States, blacks were nearly four times as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana possession in 2010, even though the two groups use cannabis at similar rates, according to new federal data in a study from the American Civil Liberties Union.
The racial disparity has grown worse over the past decade, and in some states, including Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois (and in the District of Columbia), blacks were are eight times more likely to be arrested for pot, reports Ian Urbina at The New York Times.
Blacks are now 30 times more likely to be arrested for pot in the counties with the widest disparities, according to a new report from the ACLU, "The War on Marijuana in Black and White,", reports Seth Augenstein at the New Jersey Star-Ledger.
Even as the disparity has worsened, American attitudes toward marijuana have softened and several states have decriminalized or legalized its use. But about half of all drug arrests in 2011 were for marijuana, about the same as in 2010.
"The war on marijuana has disproportionately been a war on people of color," said Ezekiel Edwards, director of the ACLU's Criminal Law Reform Project, who was one of the study's authors. "We found that in virtually every county in the country, police have wasted taxpayer money enforcing marijuana laws in a racially biased manner."
The ACLU cites the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program one possible factor in the racial disparity of marijuana arrests, reorts Abby Ohlheiser at The Atlantic Wire. That program incentivizes increasing "drug arrest" numbers by tying those statistics to -- you guessed it -- law enforcement funding!
Cops then concentrate on lower income neighborhoods to keep those arrest numbers (and federal funding) up, finding the easiest arrests.
"Whenever federal funding agencies encourage law enforcement to meet numerical arrest goals instead of public safety goals, it will likely promote stereotype-based policing and we can expect these sorts of racial gaps," said Phillip Abita Goff, a psychology professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.
The ACLU said it found a bias in "virtually every county in the country," regardless of the proportional population of minorities in that county.
The 50 states and the District of Columbia spend a combined $3.6 billion each year enforcing the ban on marijuana, reports Matthew Larotonda at ABC News. Fifty-two percent of all drug arrests in 2010 were for marijuana, and according to the ACLU, most of those arrests were for possession of small amounts of pot.
Nationwide, a marijuana arrest is made, on the average, every 37 seconds, according to the report. Marijuana arrests now account for 46 percent of all drug arrests in the United States.
"To the extent that the goal of these hundreds of thousands of arrests has been to curb the availability or consumption of marijuana, they have failed," the ACLU reported, adding that continued enforcement "served as a vehicle for police to target communities of color."
The report concludes that the War on Marijuana, like the larger War on Drugs, is failure. "It has needlessly ensnared hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal justice system, had a staggeringly disproportionate impact on African Americans, and comes at a tremendous human and financial cost," the authors wrote.
During President Barack Obama's first three years in office, the arrest rate for marijuana possession was about 5 percent higher than the average rate under President George W. Bush, The New York Times reported.
"It's pretty clear that law enforcement practices are not keeping pace with public opinion and state policies," said Mona Lynch, a professor of criminology, law and society at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Lynch added that 13 states have in recent years lessened the penalties for pot, and that 18 states now allow cannabis for medicinal use.
In the report, the ACLU recommends the legalization of marijuana for adults 21 and older, and until then, to encourage police and prosecutors to deprioritize cannabis possession enforcement.