If you think the War on Drugs is mostly about "hard" drugs these days, think again. And when it comes to the War on Pot, it's been a futile war to say the least in the last decade, and African Americans tend to be the targets, according to a new report by the ACLU. In cities and counties across the country, black people are disproportionately arrested for marijuana possession, on average four times more often, and in places like Chicago and New York, black people represent as many as 71% of marijuana arrests made. This while whites and blacks use marijuana in roughly the same proportion.
Using Census data and arrest records for the period 2001 to 2010, the report finds some staggering differences in the way law enforcement treats marijuana laws, or uses pot possession as a means of arrest to discover outstanding warrants, etc. Over 7 million arrests were made in that period for marijuana possession, accounting for nearly half (46%) of all drug arrests. Racial disparities around marijuana arrests are most pronounced in the biggest cities, with Chicago and New York taking the lead, and because of looser laws around medical marijuana and marijuana in general in California, California cities have some of the lowest rates of arrest for pot possession. (In a statement today in defense of San Francisco, in the wake of the report, SFPD chief Greg Suhr cites the extremely low arrest rates here. In 2011, the year he took over the department, 11 people were arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession, and of those five were black, five were white and one was Hispanic.)
You definitely don't want to be black, and smoking pot, in Monroe County, Tennessee, where you're ten times more likely to get arrested for it; or Coffee County, Alabama, where you're 25 times more likely to get arrested.
The conclusion of the report, beyond bringing to light an uptick in overall marijuana prosecution that has done nothing to decrease the prevalence or use of the drug, is that law enforcement agencies across the country need to move in the direction of California cities in de-prioritizing marijuana arrests, at least until the drug is legalized. "[The War on Drugs] has needlessly ensnared hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal justice system, had a staggeringly disproportionate impact on AfricanAmericans, and comes at a tremendous human and financial cost," says the report. "The price paid by those arrested and convicted of marijuana possession can be significant and linger for years, if not a lifetime. Arrests and convictions for possessing marijuana can negatively impact public housing and student financial aid eligibility, employment opportunities, child custody determinations, and immigration status."
Of course, the President and the Justice Department continue their crusade to close marijuana dispensaries in California, but that's a (pointless) story for another day.