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Black folks proceed to focus on marijuana arrests even within the age of legalization, the report reveals

A new report from the ACLU shows that despite cannabis reform, law enforcement agencies continue to prosecute cannabis arrests and that these arrests remain racial.

Despite the increasing number of states decriminalizing cannabis, police continue to arrest black people at disproportionate rates for marijuana possession, a new report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) shows.

In any state in the country, a black person is more likely than a white person to be arrested for marijuana possession, although black and white people use cannabis at similar rates. In some states, blacks are up to six, eight, or nearly ten times more likely to be arrested.

As a new decade begins, it is time to assess the advances and failures of this country's marijuana policy at the state and county levels on racial justice. This report provides a new, unprecedented examination of the state of marijuana enforcement in the United States and the impact of decriminalization and legalization efforts on overall arrests and, in particular, on the racial inequalities caused by this war, the authors say.

The ACLU released the new report on the 4/20 unofficial cannabis holiday to highlight the racial differences that exist in the American law enforcement system despite criminal justice reform. To date, 11 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational and medical use, while 22 states have legalized cannabis for medical use only.

Overall arrest rates for marijuana possession have fallen 18 percent for both blacks and whites since 2010. However, the racial gaps in these arrests have not improved, and in some countries the racial gaps have widened. In 31 states, racial disparities were actually greater in 2018 than in 2010, the ACLU report showed.

Why is the US still at war on marijuana? In the report, the authors suggest that police harassment is a means of surveillance and social control.

While white marijuana use was de facto legal in much of the country, police in black and brown communities routinely stopped people, especially teenagers, in the park, on the street, on the train, on the bus, at school. Near the school, at the community center, on the porch, or while driving (usually in vain) looking for something illegal. When they found marijuana, they arrested people and dragged them to jail, the report's authors wrote.

At a glance: ACLU's results

The ACLU report on racial disparities in marijuana arrests uses data from 2010-2018. The primary results of the reports include:

  • On average, a black person in America is 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person.
  • There were nearly 700,000 cannabis arrests in 2018, representing more than 43% of all drug arrests.
  • Nine out of ten of these marijuana arrests were in the possession.
  • In 2018, according to the FBI, the police made more cannabis arrests than all violent crimes combined.
  • Montana, Kentucky, Illinois, West Virginia, and Iowa had the highest racial disparities in arrest rates for marijuana possession.

About the ACLU report

The ACLU first published a national report on marijuana arrests in 2013, entitled The War On Marijuana in Black and White, which analyzed the rate of marijuana arrests from 2001 to 2010. The new report A Tale of Two Countries: Targeted Arrests in the Age of Marijuana Reform updates the previous report, which analyzes marijuana arrests from 2010 to 2018.

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