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Feb 19, 2001
The Massive Racial Disparities In Arrests For Pot Possession

By Radley Balko Posted: 09/06/2013 3:55 pm EDT | Updated: 09/06/2013 4:31 pm EDT



Drug War, Racism, Stop And Frisk, Criminal Justice, Marijuana, Police, Racial Discrimination, Racial Profiling, The Agitator, War On Drugs, Black Voices News

I'm a little late to this, but last week I received a copy of the ACLU report The War on Marijuana in Black and White, which was released in June. As the title suggests, it's an in-depth look at race and marijuana arrests in America, broken nationally, then by state, and by county. A few interesting items from the national data:
-- Marijuana arrests have been falling since 2006, but that's after a steep climb since 2001. So there are still significantly more annual arrests now that there were in the early 2000s.
-- 88 percent of marijuana arrests are for possession, and nearly half of all drug arrests are for pot possession.
-- The four states with the highest number of pot possession arrests per capita: New York, Nebraska, Maryland, and Illinois.
-- In New York and Texas in 2010, 97 percent of pot arrests were for possession (as opposed to distribution).
-- The five counties with the highest pot possession arrests per capita: Worcester, Maryland; Kleberg, Texas; Cole, Missouri; Bronx, New York; and Baltimore City, Maryland.​
The uptick in arrest rates over the first half of the 2000s did not result in any significant reduction in the rate of use.
From the data on racial disparities . . .
-- Blacks are 3.73 times more likely to be arrest for pot possession than whites. The regions with the largest disparity: the Northeast and Midwest. The region with the smallest: the West.
-- The states with the highest racial disparity in per capita pot possession arrests: Iowa (blacks are 8.34 times more likely to be arrested), Minnesota (8.05), Illinois (7.81), Wisconsin (7.56), and Kentucky (5.95).
-- The black arrest rate for pot possession is below 300 per 100,000 residents in only two states, Hawaii and Massachusetts. The white arrest rate for pot possession is above 300 per 100,000 residents in only three states: Wyoming, Nebraska, and Alaska. The black arrest rate was below 500 in only 10 states. The white arrest rate was over 400 in zero states.
-- The black/white arrest rate disparity for pot possession has only grown over the last 10 years. The disparity has grown most in Alaska, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio.​
A common rejoinder to the racial disparities in arrest rates or incarceration rates is that, proportionately, black people commit more crimes than white white people. But that argument doesn't explain away these figures. These, again, are for pot possession. Meaning, these people were arrested with enough pot for personal use, but not enough to charge them with distribution. In other words, most of these people were arrested for using. And as the ACLU report points out, numerous studies have shown that blacks and whites use marijuana at about the same rate. In fact, in 2010, 34 percent of whites reported having used marijuana in the previous year, versus just 27 percent of blacks.
Looking beyond the racial data, there are some other interesting bits in the report. Montana, for example, legalized medical marijuana by ballot initiative in 2004. The measure passed with over 60 percent of the vote. State and federal authorities, however, set out to thwart the voters with aggressive crackdowns on pot users. So over the last 10 years, the number of pot possession arrests per capita over the last decade in Montana has jumped by 145 percent, more than any other state in the country.
But Montana's statewide figure pales in comparison to counties in America with the largest increase. Hancock County, West Virginia, for example, saw its rate of pot possession arrests jump a whopping 2,319 percent between 2001 and 2001. Other counties leading the way in stepping up enforcement over the last decade include the D.C. suburb of Fairfax County, Virginia (976 percent), Cole County, Missouri (669 percent), and Vanderburgh County, Indiana (583 percent).
Finally, as many states continue to face pension shortfalls and budget crunches, the report looks at the fiscal drain of pot possession arrests. The ACLU estimates that nationally, the cost of arresting people just for possessing marijuana run somewhere between $1-6 billion per year. The states that spend the most money per capita arresting pot users: New York, Maryland, Illinois, Wyoming, Nevada, Delaware, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Arizona. New York, incidentally, spends almost twice as much as any other state.



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