The very origins of marijuana prohibition are rooted in racism. The plant was first outlawed because of concerns it was being used by “dangerous” Mexicans and African-Americans. A century later the practice and execution of the war on marijuana remains heavily racially biased. According to a new report by the ACLU even though whites and African-Americans use marijuana at nearly identical rates, African-Americans are almost four times as likely to be arrested for it. From the ACLU report:
Stated simply, marijuana has become the drug of choice for state and local police departments nationwide. Between 2001 and 2010, there were 8,244,943 marijuana arrests, of which 7,295,880, or 88%, were for marijuana possession. In 2010 alone, there were 889,133 marijuana arrests — 300,000 more than arrests for all violent crimes combined — or one every 37 seconds. There were 140,000 more marijuana arrests in 2010 than in 2001, and 784,021 of them, or 88%, were for possession.
The war on marijuana has largely been a war on people of color. Despite the fact that marijuana is used at comparable rates by whites and Blacks, state and local governments have aggressively enforced marijuana laws selectively against Black people and communities. In 2010, the Black arrest rate for marijuana possession was 716 per 100,000, while the white arrest rate was 192 per 100,000. Stated another way, a Black person was 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person — a disparity that increased 32.7% between 2001 and 2010. It is not surprising that the War on Marijuana, waged with far less fanfare than the earlier phases of the drug war, has gone largely, if not entirely, unnoticed by middle- and upper-class white communities.
In the states with the worst disparities, Blacks were on average over six times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites. In the worst offending counties across the country,Blacks were over 10, 15, even 30 times more likely to be arrested than white residents in the same county.
The incredibly racist nature of the war on marijuana is a large part of the reason the ACLU recommends that marijuana be legalized for adults over the age of 21 with a regulated system.
I recommend reading the entire report to understand just how deeply racism is entrenched in the war on marijuana.
Photo by The Other Dan released under Creative Commons License