Blacks 30 Times More Likely to Get Arrested for Pot as Whites in Some Counties: The War on Drugs Is a War on Minorities

The  American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has just released a groundbreaking report on marijuana arrests in the United States. For the first time ever, the ACLU has made available data on racial disparities in marijuana arrests in every state, and the results -- though stunning -- are predictable: Across the US, black Americans were nearly four times as likely as whites to get busted for pot in 2010, even though whites get stoned at slightly higher levels. In states with the worst disparity, Blacks were six times as likely as whites to be arrested for pot. In the worst counties, blacks were 30 times more likely to be arrested.  Interestingly, the racial disparity persisted across different demographics, with blacks more likely to get handcuffed for pot even in predominantly white neighborhoods.

In every single state, the rate of black marijuana arrestees was disproportionate their percentage in the population. 

The ACLU is now calling for the legalization of marijuana as a solution to a failed, racist policy that accomplishes little beyond oppressing minorities.  As the report notes, marijuana arrests are no small deal, but deliver a severe blow to education and employment opportunity, as well as child custody rights.  The cost to taxpayers is also severe, with states in 2010 shelling out more than $3 billion to make an arrest every 37 seconds, 88% of which were for simple possession alone. The ACLU stresses that police time spent enforcing marijuana prohibition could be better used to protect us from more violent crimes. Instead, it creates a separate legal system for blacks. From 2001 to 2010, states busted 7 million people for pot, increasingly spending money making arrests for a drug almost 40% of Americans have used, and most think should be legal. 

Youths also bear the brunt of the marijuana arrest campaign, with 62% of possession arrets in 2010 for peole 24 years or younger, and more than 34% teenagers or younger. The numbers are also rising.

Despite the fact that a historic majority of Americans now support marijuana legalization (and about 40% have tried the drug), the arrests and racial disparities continue even in states with more realxed marijuana laws. 

New York and Texas were the two states with the most marijuana arrests, even though New York has decriminalized marijuana for personal possession.  Oregon, where marijuana laws have become increasingly liberal, is one of the states where mariuana arrests increased the greatest -- by 45%  -- from 2001 to 2010. 

The report also said that data-driven policy management and performance tools like COMPSTAT, as well as federal grant programs, create pressure for high numbers of drug arrests, including those for pot. Notably, states managed to increase the cash they were spending on handcuffing pot smokers amid budget shortfalls and a drop in other crimes.  That’s because police departments receive federal funding from programs like the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program, which use arrest numbers to determine which local police departments to back with the hundreds of million of dollars it distirubtes each year. 

Because marijuana is so widespread, and often used in the open, busting people for it easier, quicker, and cheaper than investigating serious crimes. As cops struggle to meet numerical performance standards, minorities become fodder for cash incentives. 

“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,” Phillip Atiba Goff, a psychology professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, told the New York Times

Considering the massive expenditure of resources and grave racial disparities, the ACLU says legalization would be a preferrable policy to prohibition, which has failed to reduce marijuana use while causing a wealth of other problems:

Legalization would, first and foremost, eliminate the unfair race- and community-targeted  enforcement of marijuana criminal laws; help reduce overincarceration in our jails and  prisons; curtail infringement upon constitutional rights, most notably as guaranteed by  the Fourth Amendment’s proscription of unreasonable searches and seizures; and allow law enforcement to focus on serious crime. Furthermore, at a time when states are facing budget shortfalls, legalizing marijuana makes fiscal sense.

As the report also notes, the 40-year-long war on drugs has contributed to a stunning incarceration rate. We have 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of its prison population. The War on Drugs prompted a 53% rise in drug arrests, but data proves that the policy is largely a war on weed. In 40 years of drug war, pot busts increased by 188%, with no discernable outcome other than a race-based method of enforcement. 

The report also noted that marijuana arrests are not slowing down, despite a trend in states moving to legalize or decriminalize marijuana for recreational or medical use. During President Obama’s first three years in office, arrests for marijuana possession grew  5% higher than the average rate under George W. Bush.

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