Blacks Found to Be 3.3 Times More Likely to Be Arrested for Marijuana Possession Than Whites in Michigan, Despite Equal Usage Rates

Affiliate: ACLU of Michigan
June 4, 2013 11:20 am

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New Report Features Original Data Analysis on Marijuana Arrest Rates by Race and Details High Costs of Enforcement

June 4, 2013

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DETROIT – According to a new report by the ACLU, blacks were arrested for marijuana possession at 3.3 times the rate of whites in Michigan in 2010, despite comparable marijuana usage rates. The report, Marijuana in Black and White: Billions of Dollars Wasted on Racially Biased Arrests, released today, is the first ever to examine state and county marijuana arrest rates nationally by race. The findings show that while there were pronounced racial disparities in marijuana arrests 10 years ago, they have grown significantly worse.

“The War on Marijuana has amounted to a war on people of color,” said Mark P. Fancher, ACLU of Michigan Racial Justice staff attorney. “Hundreds of thousands of people have been needlessly ensnared in the criminal justice system at tremendous human and financial cost.”

In Michigan, the counties with the largest racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests were Monroe, St. Clair, Jackson, Kalamazoo and Kent. Blacks are 15.4 times more likely to be arrested than whites in Monroe, 10.1 times more likely to be arrested in St. Clair, 8.6 times for likely in Jackson, 8.5 times more likely in Kalamazoo and 7.5 times more likely in Kent.

Nationally, of the large counties across the country, Kalamazoo had the highest percentage increase in racial disparity in marijuana possession arrest rates between 2001 and 2010 at 429 percent. Kent County came in second with a 426 percent increase. Wayne County was ranked sixth among large counties nationally with an increase of 271 percent. This placed three Michigan counties in the top 10 for the highest percentage increase in racial disparity in the ten year period.

See an infographic of Michigan marijuana statistics.

Statewide, police officers made 17,830 arrests for marijuana possession in 2010, and marijuana possession arrests accounted for 49.6 percent of all drug arrests in 2010. In the past 10 years, marijuana possession arrest rates have risen 9.9 percent and the racial disparities among such arrests have increased 149.3 percent statewide.

Despite the fact that a majority of Americans now support marijuana legalization, Michigan spent about $94 million enforcing marijuana laws in 2010. Nationally, states spent an estimated $3.61 billion enforcing marijuana possession laws in 2010 alone. Nationally, blacks were arrested for marijuana possession at 3.7 times the rate of whites.

“The aggressive policing of marijuana is costly, racially biased, and ineffective,” said Ezekiel Edwards, Director of the Criminal Law Reform Project at the ACLU and one of the primary authors of the report. “These arrests have a significant detrimental impact on people’s lives, as well as on the communities in which they live. When people are arrested for possessing even tiny amounts of marijuana, they can be disqualified from public housing and student financial aid, lose or find it more difficult to obtain employment, lose custody of their child, and be deported. In addition, the targeted enforcement of marijuana possession laws against people of color creates a community of mistrust and reduced cooperation with the police, which damages public safety.”

In 2012, residents in Grand Rapids voted to decriminalize marijuana possession in the city. In 2011, the City of Kalamazoo amended its City Charter to make marijuana possession a low priority for law enforcement and, in 2012, the Kalamazoo City Commission unanimously approved an ordinance for police to issue an appearance ticket, not arrest, for marijuana possession. Data regarding marijuana possession arrests for 2011 and 2012 has yet to be released.

“It’s clear that residents in the worst offending counties have seen the damage of aggressively enforced marijuana laws and have spoken with their vote,” added Fancher. “We plan on requesting current data from Kent County and Kalamazoo County officials once it is available to assess whether and how decriminalization efforts have impacted the disproportionate arrest rates.”

The ACLU of Michigan urges lawmakers and law enforcement officials to reform policing practices, including ending racial profiling as well as unconstitutional stops, frisks, and searches. Specifically, the ACLU urges police departments to adopt model racial profiling policies that strictly prohibit law enforcement from engaging in profiling of individuals based on race, ethnicity, or national origin; train all police personnel about the harms of racial profiling and discrimination; investigate all complaints in a thorough and timely manner; require additional anti-bias training of all officers with a history of discrimination complaints filed against them; and implement appropriate discipline for non-compliance with such policies.

Across the country, the ACLU is calling for states to legalize marijuana. If that is not possible, the ACLU suggests removing all civil and criminal penalties for its use and possession; decriminalizing low-level marijuana possession by replacing all criminal penalties for use and possession of small amounts of marijuana with a maximum civil penalty of a small fine; or, at the very least, deprioritizing enforcement of marijuana possession laws, as the City of Kalamazoo has done.

To read the report, click here.

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