Marijuana Arrests Are Often Racially Biased, New Federal Data Confirms

iStock_000005273638XSmall.jpgBlack Americans were nearly four times as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana in 2010 despite the fact that both races use the drug at about the same rate, according to new federal data. Drawn from police records from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, the data, part of a report recently released by the American Civil Liberties Union, gives a comprehensive review of marijuana arrests by race and county. “We found that in virtually every county in the country, police have wasted taxpayer money enforcing marijuana laws in a racially biased manner,” said Ezekiel Edwards, the director of the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project.

This disparity has grown steadily from a decade ago, and in some states, including Washington D.C., Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois, blacks were 7.5 to 8.5 times more likely than whites to be arrested for possessing pot. Experts stated that growing racial disparities in marijuana arrests were especially striking because they were so consistent, even across counties containing large or small minority populations. According to the New York Times, President Obama’s presence in office has done nothing to ease the racial disparity. Rather, arrests for marijuana possession have increased by about 5% since Obama took office from President Bush. In 2010 and 2011 roughly half of all drug-related arrests were for marijuana possession alone.
According to the ACLU report, federal law enforcement funding programs like the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program often incentivize racial profiling by including arrest numbers in performance measures used to determine aid. University of California Los Angeles professor Phillip Goff explains that police often concentrate on poorer or minority neighborhoods to increase their arrest statistics by targeting multiple low-level offenses that are quicker, easier and cheaper than investigating serious crimes. “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,” Professor Goff said.

Throughout our nation, the aggressive enforcement of drug laws for low-level, nonviolent offenders has wasted millions in tax dollars and harmed the lives of countless citizens charged for small amounts of marijuana, all while having virtually no impact on the drug’s availability or use. With new federal data confirming the fact that these outdated laws have been enforced disproportionately against minorities and likely irreparably damaged community relations with law enforcement, it is no wonder that even U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has begun to voice concerns about current drug policy. Speaking in August to the San Francisco Bar Association, Holder stated that “unwarranted disparities are far too common” in the criminal justice system, giving voice to concerns that “there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws–everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws.”

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Drug Related Charges may include: Possession of Marijuana, Possession of Controlled Substance, Possession of Dangerous Drug, Manufacturing a Dangerous Drug/Controlled Substance, Delivery or Intent to Deliver Marijuana/Dangerous Drug/Controlled Substance, Possession of Drug Paraphernalia and many other drug related charges.