Blacks Are Singled Out for Marijuana Arrests

Jun 4, 2013

Black Amer­i­cans were nearly four times as likely as whites to be arrested on charges of mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion in 2010, even though the two groups used the drug at sim­i­lar rates, accord­ing to new fed­eral data. This dis­par­ity had grown steadily from a decade before, and in some states, includ­ing Iowa, Min­nesota and Illi­nois, blacks were around eight times as likely to be arrested. Dur­ing the same period, pub­lic atti­tudes toward mar­i­juana soft­ened and a num­ber of states decrim­i­nal­ized its use. But about half of all drug arrests in 2011 were on marijuana-related charges, roughly the same por­tion as in 2010. Advo­cates for the legal­iza­tion of mar­i­juana have crit­i­cized the Obama admin­is­tra­tion for hav­ing vocally opposed state legal­iza­tion efforts and for tak­ing a more aggres­sive approach than the Bush admin­is­tra­tion in clos­ing med­ical mar­i­juana dis­pen­saries and pros­e­cut­ing their own­ers in some states, espe­cially Mon­tana and Cal­i­for­nia. The new data, how­ever, offers a more nuanced pic­ture of mar­i­juana enforce­ment on the state level. Drawn from police records from all 50 states and the Dis­trict of Colum­bia, the report is the most com­pre­hen­sive review of mar­i­juana arrests by race and by county and is part of a report being released this week by the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union. Much of the data was also inde­pen­dently reviewed for The New York Times by researchers at Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity. “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 A.C.L.U.’s Crim­i­nal Law Reform Project and the lead author of the report. Dur­ing Pres­i­dent 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. And in 2011, mar­i­juana use grew to about 7 per­cent, up from 6 per­cent in 2002 among Amer­i­cans who said that they had used the drug in the past 30 days. Also, a major­ity of Amer­i­cans in a Pew Research Cen­ter poll con­ducted in March sup­ported legal­iz­ing mar­i­juana. Though there has been a shift in state laws and in pop­u­lar atti­tudes about the drug, black and white Amer­i­cans have expe­ri­enced the change very dif­fer­ently. “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. She added that 13 states have in recent years passed or expanded laws decrim­i­nal­iz­ing mar­i­juana use and that 18 states now allow it for med­i­c­i­nal use. In the past year, Col­orado and Wash­ing­ton State have legal­ized mar­i­juana, leav­ing the Jus­tice Depart­ment to decide how to respond to those laws because mar­i­juana remains ille­gal under fed­eral law. The cost of drug enforce­ment has grown steadily over the past decade. In 2010, states spent an esti­mated $3.6 bil­lion enforc­ing mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion laws, a 30 per­cent increase from 10 years ear­lier. The increase came as many states, faced with bud­get short­falls, were sav­ing money by using alter­na­tives to incar­cer­a­tion for non­vi­o­lent offend­ers. Dur­ing the same period, arrests for most other types of crime steadily dropped. Researchers said the grow­ing racial dis­par­i­ties in mar­i­juana arrests were espe­cially strik­ing because they were so con­sis­tent even across coun­ties with large or small minor­ity pop­u­la­tions. The A.C.L.U. report said that one pos­si­ble rea­son that the racial dis­par­ity in arrests remained despite shift­ing state poli­cies toward the drug is that police prac­tices are slow to change. Fed­eral pro­grams like the Edward Byrne Jus­tice Assis­tance Grant Pro­gram con­tinue to pro­vide incen­tives for racial pro­fil­ing, the report said, by includ­ing arrest num­bers in its per­for­mance mea­sures when dis­trib­ut­ing hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars to local law enforce­ment each year. Phillip Atiba Goff, a psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Los Ange­les, said that police depart­ments, partly dri­ven by a desire to increase their drug arrest sta­tis­tics, can con­cen­trate on minor­ity or poorer neigh­bor­hoods to meet numer­i­cal goals, focus­ing on low-level offenses that are eas­ier, quicker and cheaper than inves­ti­gat­ing seri­ous felony 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. A ver­sion of this arti­cle appeared in print on June 4, 2013, on page A11 of the New York edi­tion with the head­line: Blacks Are Sin­gled Out For Mar­i­juana Arrests, Fed­eral Data Sug­gests. Source: New York Times (NY) Author: Ian Urbina Pub­lished: June 4, 2013 Copy­right: 2013 The New York Times Com­pany Con­tact: letters@​nytimes.​com Web­site: http://​www​.nytimes​.com/

941921b476analaw.jpg 150x100 Blacks Are Singled Out for Marijuana Arrests

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Blacks Are Sin­gled Out for Mar­i­juana Arrests

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