By Khorri Atkinson
Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News
African-Americans are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites despite similar consumption rate by both groups, while states have been spending more than $3.6 billion of taxpayers’ funds for policing, adjudicating and incarcerating convicts, according to a recent report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
The report, called “The War on Marijuana in Black and White: Billions of Dollars Wasted on Racially Biased Arrests,” used data from the U.S. Census, the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program and other sources between 2001 and 2010. It is the first report to examine nationwide and state marijuana arrests, according to the ACLU.
Between 2001 and 2010, there were more than seven million arrests for marijuana possession in the U.S. In 2010 alone, there were more than 800,000 arrests. These figures from 2001, according to the report, now make up nearly half of all drug arrests in America. The report found that disparities exist in all regions of the U.S., including large and small counties, cities, rural areas and in both high- and low-income communities.
“The war on marijuana has disproportionately been a war on people of color,” said Ezekiel Edwards, director of the ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project and one of the report’s authors, in a statement. “State and local governments have aggressively enforced marijuana laws selectively against Black people and communities, needlessly ensnaring hundreds of thousands or people in the criminal justice system at tremendous human and final cost.” According to the report, Iowa has the greatest racial disparity in arrests out of all states. Black Iowans are 8.3 times more likely to be arrested, despite the fact that African-Americans make up just 3.1 percent of the population. That is followed by Washington, D.C., where blacks are eight times more likely to be arrested.
In 2010, New York state spent more than $600 million enforcing marijuana laws. Black New Yorkers are 4.5 times more likely than whites to be arrested.
According to the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) analysis of the report, Brooklyn and Manhattan have the highest racial disparities in arrests in New York state, where black New Yorkers are more than nine times more likely to be arrested.
The AmNews contacted NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman but did not receive a comment by press time.
Victor Goode, a professor at the CUNY School of Law who is an expert on racial justice and civil rights, said the statistics given by the ACLU’s report are clear indications of what racial profiling looks like in black communities.
“The police will tell you that this is a normal investigation taking place. However, it is clear that they are overwhelmingly targeting African-American youths, especially when the actual drug usage by both African-American and white youths are essentially the same,” said Goode.
Goode further stated that such actions can have a detrimental impact on the lives of African-Americans.
“This can give them a severe disadvantage by having a criminal record and being forced to pay fines and forced to forego job and educational opportunities,” he said.
Goode, who said he is unaware of the scientific justification to legalize marijuana, said he thinks it should be decriminalized. If this is done, Goode said “resources can be redirected to serious crimes for the protection of the community.”
According to the report, California has used more than $490 million in 2010 to enforce bans on marijuana, despite having Blacks that are 2.2 times more likely than whites to be arrested. According to the report, Maryland, Illinois, Washington, D.C., and Wyoming lead the country in per capita spending to enforce marijuana laws.
The ACLU said that states will spend more than $200 billion dollars enforcing marijuana laws over the next six years.
According to a recent PEW survey, 52 percent of Americans support legalization for marijuana, while 45 percent oppose it.
Currently, Washington and Colorado are the only states to have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes.
The ACLU called on all states to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana, because it would eradicate the unfair racially targeted enforcement of marijuana laws. It also said states that are facing budget deficits can save millions of dollars that are being used to enforce marijuana laws.