New York City Drug Crimes Lawyer :: Federal Data Suggests That Marijuana Arrests Are Racially Biased

June 5, 2013

According to new federal data, black Americans were nearly four times as likely as whites to be arrested on charges related to marijuana possession in 2010, despite the fact that both used the drug at similar rates.

This disproportion has increased steadily from a decade before, and is even higher in some states, including Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois, where blacks were nearly eight times as likely to be arrested.

During this same time frame, the public opinion regarding marijuana use relaxed and a handful of states legalized its use. However, almost half of all drug arrests in 2011 were on marijuana-related charges, nearly the same amount as in 2010.


The new data draws from police records from all 50 states and the District of Columbia and is the most comprehensive review of marijuana arrests by race and by county. It is part of a report that will be released this week by the American Civil Liberties Union.

According to the director of the A.C.L.U.’s Criminal Law Reform Project and the lead author of the report, “We found that in virtually every county in the country, police have wasted taxpayer money enforcing marijuana laws in a racially biased manner.”

Advocates for the legalization of marijuana have criticized the Obama administration for taking a much more aggressive stance in closing medical marijuana dispensaries and prosecuting their owners in some states. Research shows that during President Obama’s first three years in office, the arrest rate for marijuana possession was about 5 percent higher than the average rate under President George W. Bush. In 2011, marijuana use climbed up to 7 percent, up from 6 percent in 2002.

While many states have changed their laws regarding the drug, new data suggests that white and black Americans have experienced these changes quite differently.
In recent years, 13 states have passed or expanded laws decriminalizing marijuana use and currently 18 states now allow it for medicinal use. In the past year, Colorado and Washington State have legalized marijuana, leaving the Justice Department to resolve drug laws as marijuana is still illegal under federal law.

The cost related to drug enforcement has only increased over the past decade. In 2010, states spent an estimated $3.6 billion enforcing marijuana possession laws, which is a 30 percent increase from 10 years earlier.

According to researchers, racial bias in marijuana arrests is consistent in counties with large and small minority populations.

The A.C.L.U. report suggests that racial disparity in arrests remains because of slowly changing police policies. The report claims that federal programs, like the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program, provide incentives for racial profiling by including arrest numbers when measuring performance, leading to a distribution of hundreds of millions of dollars to local law enforcement every year.

Other experts on the subject agree that federal funding agencies are encouraging police to meet numerical arrest goals instead of focusing on public safety, which likely leads to stereotype-based policing. It is a popular belief that when police departments are driven to increase their drug arrest statistics, they focus their efforts on minority or low-income neighborhoods to meet these numerical goals.

Based on information from the New York City Police Department’s stop-and-frisk program, around 26,000 people were arrested for alleged marijuana possession in New York City last year. In fact, more people were arrested for marijuana than any other offense. Drug possession charges are aggressively prosecuted throughout the state of New York, which is why these charges should not be taken lightly. Even if you are caught with a small amount of drugs, you can still face harsh consequences. Following a marijuana arrest, racial bias can be difficult to prove, but enlisting the help of a criminal defense lawyer can ensure that your rights are fully protected. A New York City Drug Possession Lawyer at Whittel & Melton can give your case the attention it deserves. To discuss your case with us, please fill out a free online case evaluation form or call 866-608-5529.

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