For years African American leaders have been saying that police departments target blacks when it comes to marijuana possession. Tuesday the ACLU released a study that confirms that is indeed the case. Black people are arrested for marijuana possession at a higher rate than whites, even though marijuana use by both races is about the same.
According to data from the National Drug Health Survey, a Health and Human Services publication, marijuana use among younger people ages 18-25 was greater among whites, but blacks were still arrested more often.
Some Alabama counties only arrests blacks for smoking pot
The ACLU’s analysis of federal crime data, released Tuesday, found marijuana arrest rates for black people were 3.73 times greater than those for white people nationally in 2010. In some Alabama counties, the arrest rate was 10 to 30 times greater for blacks. In two Alabama counties, 100 percent of those arrested for marijuana possession were black, the ACLU said.
For example, in Morgan County, Ala., where African Americans represent 12 percent of the population and Pike County, Alabama, where 37 percent of the population is black, no whites were arrested for marijuana, only blacks. This is reminiscent of the 1950s.
Between 2001 and 2010 there was an overall increase in marijuana possession arrests nationally. This is largely attributable to drastic increases in arrests of black people, the ACLU said. Blacks were arrested at a rate of 537 per 100,000 people nationally in 2001. In 2010, their arrest rate rose to 716 per 100,000—an increase of 34%.
By comparison, the rate for arrests of white people was only 191 per 100,000 and only rose to 192 per 100,000 in 2010—less than one half of 1%. Despite the disparate rates, 460,808 whites were arrested for marijuana possession in 2010, compared to 286,117 blacks. This is because there are far more whites than blacks in America.
Ezekiel Edwards, lead author of the ACLU study, attributed the disparate arrest rates to racial profiling by police seeking to pad their arrest numbers with “low-level” arrests in “certain communities that they have kind of labeled as problematic.”
The unequal arrests rates are not confined to a single region of the U.S. or in urban areas with larger black populations, the ACLU said. That discrepancy is found throughout the country, regardless of the size of the black population of the location and at all income levels, the data shows.
The largest disparities were found in: Iowa, where blacks were 8.34 times more likely to be arrested than whites; Washington, D.C., 8.05 times greater; Minnesota, 7.81 times; Illinois, 7.56; Wisconsin, 5.98; Kentucky, 5.95 and Pennsylvania, 5.19 times greater.
U.S. spends more on marijuana than deadlier drugs
The vast majority of all drug arrests in the United States are for possession of marijuana—not selling, just possession. More people are arrested for smoking pot than meth, heroine, or cocaine. These arrests cost the states at least $3.6 billion dollars in 2010, and it could be even higher depending on how the data is interpreted.
According to the ACLU Report the states will spend $20 billion enforcing marijuana laws over the next six years. California, Nevada and Washington alone will spend $900 per-capita on criminal justice for marijuana offenders. It costs $750 on the low end for each marijuana possession arrest. The national per-diem cost of housing an inmate arrested due to a marijuana-related offense averages $95 a day.
All this money spent on marijuana arrests would be better spent on arresting drug traffickers and dealers, or better yet, treatment of drug addiction. Furthermore, targeting blacks for arrest is deplorable in 2013.
Colorado and Washington have legalized recreational marijuana. Those states will save a great deal of money not chasing down citizens for marijuana use. Perhaps other states will see the light. In days of budget cuts, $3 billion dollars could be better spent on pre-school rather than locking people up for smoking pot.
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