ACLU report highlights racial disparities in cannabis arrests

Black people in the U.S. are 3.64 times more likely than white people to be arrested for possession

Matt Popovich / Unsplash


According to a report released today by the American Civil Liberties Union, black people in the United States are 3.64 times more likely than white people to be arrested for possession of cannabis.

The report, A Tale of Two Countries: Racially Targeted Arrests in the Era of Marijuana Reform, details possession arrests from 2010 to 2018. The ACLU found that law enforcement made 6.1 million such arrests over that period, and that racial disparities in arrest rates exist in every state.

In a news release dated April 20, the ACLU said that the report’s key findings include the following:

  • Law enforcement made more than 6.1 million marijuana-related arrests from 2010 to 2018. In 2018 alone, there were almost 700,000 marijuana arrests, which accounted for more than 43 percent of all drug arrests. In 2018, law enforcement made more marijuana arrests than for all violent crimes combined.
  • Despite legalization in a number of states, it is not clear that marijuana arrests are trending downward nationally. Arrest rates have actually risen in the past few years, with almost 100,000 more arrests in 2018 than in 2015.
  • In every state, and in over 96 percent of the counties examined, black people were much more likely to be arrested than white people for marijuana possession. Overall, these disparities have not improved. On average, a black person is 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, even though black and white people use marijuana at similar rates. In 10 states, black people were more than five times more likely to be arrested.
  • In states that legalized marijuana, arrest rates decreased after legalization; however, racial disparities still remained.

“Many state and local governments across the country continue to aggressively enforce marijuana laws, disproportionately targeting Black communities,” said Ezekiel Edwards, director of the Criminal Law Reform Project at the ACLU and one of the primary authors of the report. “Criminalizing people who use marijuana needlessly entangles hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal legal system every year at a tremendous individual and societal cost. As a matter of racial justice and sound public health policy, every state in the country must legalize marijuana with racial equity at the foundation of such reform.”

Read the full text of the report here.

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