Drug Law

New Report Shows Marijuana Arrests Unfairly Target Blacks

| by Marijuana Policy Project

By Mike Meno

On the same day that the California NAACP endorsed that state’s ballot initiative to end marijuana prohibition (now officially named Proposition 19), our allies at the Drug Policy Alliance released a new study that shines a light on the systemic racial bias behind marijuana arrests taking place all across California.

Among the report’s findings:

-- “In every one of the 25 largest counties in California, blacks are arrested for marijuana possession at higher rates than whites, typically at double, triple or even quadruple the rate of whites,” even though “U.S. government studies consistently find that young blacks use marijuana at lower rates than young whites.”

-- “In Los Angeles County, with nearly ten million residents and over a quarter of California’s population, blacks are arrested at over triple the rate of whites. Blacks are less than 10 percent of L.A. County’s population, but they are 30 percent of the people arrested for marijuana possession.”

-- “Police in other California counties, even those with relatively few blacks or relatively low rates of marijuana arrests, still arrest blacks at much higher rates than whites. African Americans are arrested for marijuana possession at nearly three times the rate of whites in Solano County, and at three to four times the rate of whites in Sonoma, Santa Cruz, and San Francisco counties.”

The report, written by Prof. Harry Levine of Queens College, finds this overwhelming racial bias to be a “system-wide phenomenon” and not just the result of a handful of racist cops. That’s because most narcotics officers are assigned to patrol so-called “high-crime” neighborhoods that are disproportionately low-income and minority. In those neighborhoods—as in nearly all neighborhoods—the most likely, or easiest arrest an officer can make is for marijuana possession. If we want to end this racial bias, we need to end the laws that allow it to occur. Come November, California voters will have an opportunity to do just that.