Racial Disparities in Marijuana Arrests: Another Cause for Legalization

If the medical benefits,  civil liberties, and the senseless waste that is the war on drugs aren’t enough reasons, the fact that marijuana laws are enforced in a racist manner should further justify legalization. Recently released data indicates racial disparities among marijuana arrests aren’t just common in big cities or areas with high minority concentration—but everywhere.

According to the New York Times, Black Americans are four times as likely to be arrested for a pot offense than white Americans. This is despite both racial groups using marijuana at about the same rates. In other words, Blacks aren’t using marijuana any more often than whites, but are suffering the consequences at a rate four times that of whites.

“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,”  said Professor Phillip Atiba Goff of the University of California Los Angeles. He says the disparities are due, in part, to departments that are trying to boost arrest numbers in order to appeal to federal funding. In order to boost those arrests, police officers seek out minorities who they falsely believe will be more likely to have marijuana on them.

Blacks are arrested nearly four times as often as whites for marijuana possession.Not only are minorities not more likely to use drugs, but the practice of using such a racist ideology as the basis for arrests is truly frightening.

Marijuana is now available in 18 states for medical use and 13 states have relaxed their marijuana laws, decriminalizing it. In addition, more Americans than ever support all-out legalization. Still, marijuana arrest rates have grown. During Obama’s first three years as President, marijuana possession arrest rates grew 5% over the rate during President George W. Bush’s tenure.

“It’s pretty clear that law enforcement practices are not keeping pace with public opinion and state policies,” said Mona Lynch of the University of California, Santa Cruz.

The police want to continue enforcing the laws of the Drug War, despite what the people want and even despite what their changing laws dictate.

Interestingly, the racial disparities that exist in marijuana arrests are across the board. From small, rural areas to large urban centers—researchers found the disparities were present in nearly every county surveyed.

We talk a lot about how pot has medical benefits, how the Drug War is a failure, and how consenting adults should be able to have a joint if they want. But, one thing that we shouldn’t overlook when discussing legalization is the racist practices inherent in this war on marijuana.

About Elizabeth

Elizabeth Renter is a freelance writer and editor who writes about criminal justice issues.

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