African Americans are almost four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than whites, even though they use the drug at similar rates, according to a new analysis of federal data from the American Civil Liberties Union.
Overall between 2001 and 2010, there were more than 8 million marijuana arrests, 88 percent of which were for possession. These arrests account for more than half of all drug arrests. Since 1990, marijuana possession arrests have increased 193 percent, tracking the spike in overall drug arrests and an inflated national prison population. But the increase in marijuana arrests has come almost entirely from increased arrests of blacks. While arrests of whites have remained largely constant since 2001, the arrest rate for blacks has spiked 32.7 percent:
In 2010, 14 percent of Blacks and 12 percent of whites reported having used marijuana in the past year. Yet, blacks were arrested at a rate of 716 per 100,000, while whites were arrested at a rate of 192 per 100,000 in 2010:
The ACLU report notes a significant problem in calculating the impact of arrests on Latinos: The FBI does not identify Latinos as a distinct racial group and arrests of Latinos are overwhelmingly categorized as “white.”
The greatest disparity in marijuana arrests is in Iowa, where blacks were more than eight times more likely to be arrested than whites. And the criminal record from these arrests is only the beginning. After DeMarcus Sanders, profiled in the report, spent 30 days in jail for a single marijuana seed found in his car, he lost his job, and his driver’s license was suspended for six months. Without a driver’s license, DeMarcus has had an exceedingly difficult time finding a new job in rural Iowa. And now, DeMarcus owes the county room and board charges for the time he spent behind bars under a perverse county rule.
The extensive 187-page analysis comes amidst a growing state movement for medical and recreational marijuana legalization, with a majority of Americans supporting legalization. The report shows that in the absence of full state legalization or decriminalization, arrests have continued at an extraordinary rate, at least through 2010. And while the federal government has stated that it will not prioritize arrest of those possessing marijuana in states where it is legal, it has continued to prosecute medical marijuana dispensary owners, who face jail sentences of at least five years.