A study released Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union found that African-Americans are more likely than white Americans to be arrested for marijuana possession. The study showed that in 2010 black Americans were around four times more likely to be busted for pot.
Data gleaned from FBI Uniform Crime Reporting statistics and U.S. Census numbers show that every state except Hawaii had a higher per capita marijuana arrest rate for blacks than for whites, and the disparity appears to be growing in most states, the report says. The gap between black and white arrest rates grew in 38 states and the nation's capital between 2001 and 2010.
The differing arrest rates could be a sign of varied enforcement based on race, the report suggests. White Americans are more likely to say they've tried marijuana than black Americans, according to National Household Survey on Drug Abuse and Health data cited in the report. In every year between 2002 and 2011, however, African-Americans reported slightly higher rates of marijuana use in the past 12 months – between 10 and 15 percent for each demographic group.
White 18-to-25-year-olds were more likely than their black peers to smoke weed, according to the NSDUH data for each of the years. In 2010 nearly 35 percent of white young adults said they used marijuana in the last year, a rate more than 5 percent higher than for black young adults.
"Marijuana prohibition laws are not only irrational, but also unfair," Marijuana Policy Project spokesperson Mason Tvert told U.S. News in response to the report. "Discrimination against communities of color played a role in their creation and it continues to play a role in their enforcement.
"Law enforcement resources would be better spent addressing serious crimes instead of arresting adults for using a substance objectively less harmful than alcohol," said Tvert, who helped lead the 2012 push for Colorado's Amendment 64, which legalized recreational marijuana in the state.
Despite highly publicized laws legalizing pot in some states, the ACLU report found that the so-called war on drug is still being fought in many parts of the country. Between 2001 and 2010 the per capita arrest rate for marijuana soared 146 percent in Montana, 102 percent in Delaware, 96 percent in Nevada and 62 percent in Washington, D.C.
Marijuana busts also soared in certain localities, rocketing 2,320 percent in Hancock, W.Va., and 976 percent in Fairfax, Va.
Arrests plummeted during the same time period in Massachusetts, the state with the lowest per capita annual marijuana arrest rate at 18 per 100,000 people in 2010. The data was collected before Washington state and Colorado legalized recreational marijuana after successful voter-approved initiatives.
Washington, D.C., had a higher per capita marijuana arrest rate than any of the 50 states in 2010, according to the report. Around 846 in 100,000 district residents were arrested for marijuana possession in 2010, more than second-place enforcer New York – at 535 per 100,000 – and third-place Nebraska, which arrested 417 per 100,000 for pot that year. Maryland and Illinois arrested only slightly fewer people per capita for marijuana possession.
Even in New York City - where stop-and-frisk policing is seen by marijuana users as an equal-opportunity victimizer - African-Americans are more likely than whites, Latinos and Asians to be arrested for pot. In Manhattan, around 1 percent of white residents were arrested for pot in 2010 compared to 2 percent of blacks, according to the report.
In 2010 a grand total of 784,021 Americans were arrested for marijuana possession. According to the ACLU, that's 45.7 percent of all drug arrests. The advocacy organization estimated national pot policing costs at more than $1.7 billion in 2010, with an added $1.37 in state-incurred court and legal costs and $496 million in pot punishment-related costs.
"The aggressive enforcement of marijuana possession laws needlessly ensnares hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal justice system, crowds our jails, is carried out in a racially biased manner, wastes millions of taxpayers' dollars and has not reduced marijuana use or availability," the ACLU report concludes. "Marijuana possession arrests also waste precious police resources and divert law enforcement from responding to and solving serious crimes. It is time for marijuana possession arrests to end."