Blacks are nearly four times more likely than whites to be arrested for minor pot possession violations.
By Paul Armentano
November 21, 2017
According to a groundbreaking 2013 report authored by the American Civil Liberties Union, African Americans in the United States are nearly four times more likely than whites to be arrested for minor marijuana possession violations. “[O]n average, a black person is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, even though blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates,” it concluded. “Such racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests exist in all regions of the country, in counties large and small, urban and rural, wealthy and poor, and with large and small black populations. Indeed, in over 96 percent of counties with more than 30,000 people in which at least 2 percent of the residents are black, blacks are arrested at higher rates than whites for marijuana possession.”
In the four years since the publication of that report, public opinion (and to a lesser extent, political opinion) in favor of amending America’s marijuana penalties has shifted dramatically. Yet, according to several recent analyses of marijuana arrest data, the racial disparity among those criminally charged with violating the nation’s pot laws has become more pronounced.
In Virginia, African Americans are arrested for marijuana possession crimes at more than three times the rate of whites, according to a 2017 analysis by Virginia Commonwealth University’s Capital News Service. Since 2010, this disparity has risen an estimated ten percent.
In New Jersey, blacks are arrested for pot possession crimes at three times the rates of whites, according to an ACLU New Jersey analysis published earlier this year. Since 2000, this disparity increased nearly 25 percent.
In Pennsylvania, African Americans are arrested for cannabis crimes at six times the rates of whites in 66 out of 67 counties (excluding Philadelphia, which decriminalized adult use possession offenses in 2014), according to an ACLU Pennsylvania analysis released in October. This disparity has largely held steady since 2010.
In Western New York, blacks in Erie County (which includes the city of Buffalo) are 13.5 percent of the population, but comprise over 71 percent of all low-level marijuana arrestees, according to a report released this month by the group Partnership for the Public Good. “[T]he disparities in the number of marijuana possession arrests cannot be explained by a higher use among black or Hispanic people,” authors concluded. “Legalizing marijuana would reduce low-level drug arrests by 10 percent, and help reduce racial disparities in overall arrests.