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NEW: Marijuana Arrest Rates Racially Disparate Toward Blacks

Tuesday, June 04, 2013


According to a report released today by the ACLU, black people in Rhode Island were arrested for marijuana possession at 2.6 times the rate of white people in 2010, and were seven times more likely to be arrested for this offense in the counties with the smallest minority populations. The report also shows that racially disparate arrest rates for marijuana possession have exited in Rhode Island throughout the ten-year period studied (2001-2010). These major disparities exist even though national studies show that blacks and whites use marijuana at roughly similar rates.

"Enforcement of marijuana laws adversely impacts the lives of too many Rhode Islanders in too many ways. Even more disturbing is the racial impact of the enforcement of these laws. The disparate arrest rates between whites and blacks, particularly in those areas of the state with small African-American populations, are shocking," said ACLU Rhode Island executive director Steven Brown. "It is incumbent on every police department to re-examine its practices in enforcing these laws and address the indefenesible disparities."

Statewide, police officers made 2,253 arrests for marijuana possession in 2010, and those arrests accounted for 59.1% of all drug arrests that year. According to ACLU RI's statistics, the racial disparities in arrests were well above the national average of 3.7 in Bristol and Washington counties, where the percentages of minority residents is the lowest. These residents were 7.4 times and 6.9 times as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana possession offenses. Conversely, in Providence and Newport Counties where larger numbers of blacks reside, the ratios were recorded as 2.7 and 2.8 respectively, still extremely high but below the national average. The report also finds that the racial disparities exist in all regions of the US, in both large and small counties, cities and rural areas, and in high- and low-income communities.

Rhode Islanders have begun to recognize the toll that enforcement of the marijuana law takes. Two months ago, a new state law decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marjiuana took effect. The use of marijuana for certain medicinal purposes has been allowed in the state since 2006, and last week the Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony from the ACLU and others in support of a bill that would legalize, tax, and regulate, marijuana. The National ACLU report conservatively estimates that Rhode Island spent almost $12 million enforcing marijuana laws in 2010.

"The war on marijuana has disproportionately been a war on people of color," said Ezekiel Edwards, Director of the Criminal Law Reform Project at the ACLU and one of the primary authors of the report. "State and local governments have aggressively enforced marijuana laws selectively against black people and communities, needlessly ensnaring hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal justice system at tremendous human and financial cost. The aggressive policing of marijuana is time-consuming, costly, racially biased, and doesn't work."

The report calls on states to legalize marijuana by licensing, taxing an regulating marijuana production, distribution, and possession for persos 21 or older. The report notes that at a time when the states are facing budget shortfalls, taxing and regulating would allow them to save millions of dollars currently spend on enforcement while raising millions more in revenue that could be invested in public schools and community and public health programs, including drug treatment.


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