Every 37 seconds, a person is busted for possessing marijuana. Black and white Americans smoke weed at comparable percentages, but black Americans are four times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession.
The American Civil Liberties Union released a report examining the 8.2 million marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010. Researchers found these arrests comprise over half of all drug arrests in the United States and black Americans are targeted, arrested and charged at disproportionate rates.
Ezekial Edwards, director of the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project and lead author of the reporter told the New York Times, “We found that in virtually every county in the country, police have wasted taxpayer money enforcing marijuana laws in a racially biased manner.”
The ACLU offers several reasons for the racial disparity in arrests. One possible reason is the Edward Byrne Justice Assistantship Grant Program, which “incentivizes increasing drug arrest numbers by tying the statistics to funding. Law enforcement officials then concentrate on lower income neighborhoods to keep those numbers up, finding the lowest hanging fruit of crimes to enforce” according to the New York Times.
Phillip Atiba Goff, a psychology professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, told the New York Times incentive-programs like Edward Byrne encourage numerical goals rather than investigation into detrimental crimes.
“Whenever federal funding agencies encourage law enforcement to meet numerical arrest goals instead of public safety goals, it will likely promote stereotype-based policing and we can expect these sorts of racial gaps,” Goff said.
To lessen prison costs, several states – including Colorado and Washington State – have legalized marijuana or approved it for medicinal use. A Pew Research Center poll found more than 50 percent of Americans support the legalizing of marijuana.
Colorlines has compiled an infographic exploring how the War on Drug impacts impoverished communities of color.