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St. Louis Blacks 18 Times More Likely than Whites to Be Arrested for Marijuana Possession

(Photo: Ron Reiring)

(Photo: Ron Reiring)

In St. Louis, black people are 18 times more likely to be arrested than whites for the crime of marijuana possession, according to a new report from the American Civil Liberties Union.

The report, “The War on Marijuana in Black and White,” details glaring racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests throughout the United States. According to the report, blacks are 3.73 times as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana possession in the US, despite the fact that there are about 5.7 times as many whites as blacks living in the country, and both races use marijuana at about the same rate.

Broken down state by state, alarming disparities emerge. In Minnesota, for example, where only 5 percent of the population is black, blacks make up nearly a third of all marijuana possession arrests. In Illinois, which is 15 percent black, blacks comprise 58 percent of marijuana possession arrests. The worst statewide racial disparity, however, is found in Iowa, where blacks are 8.3 times more likely to be arrested for pot possession than whites.

Those disparities grow even more shocking upon examination of local statistics. In Sarasota County, Florida and Plymouth County, Massachusetts, blacks are 10 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession. In Campbell County, Kentucky (suburban Cincinnati) and Allen County, Ohio (Lima), blacks are 12 and 13 times more likely, respectively, to be arrested. In St. Louis, Missouri the black arrest rate is 18.4 times that of whites. And in several rural counties– Cooke, Texas; Coffee, Alabama; Nelson, Kentucky; and Van Zandt, Texas– the black arrest rate is between 25 and 34 times higher than the white rate.

St. Louis Metropolitan Police Chief Sam Dotson told the Riverfront Times that this data is misleading and that his officers do not engage in racial profiling.

“We do not do targeting for marijuana,” Dotson insisted. “They say there is aggressive enforcement around marijuana laws… I fundamentally disagree with that… We’re not profiling. We’re not going out and searching for individuals to stop.”

“We spend a lot of time training our officers about how not to profile,” Dotson added. “Our goal is fair treatment of all.”

But how to explain that huge 18:1 arrest disparity? It’s not that blacks use marijuana any more than whites. In the case of young people, exactly the opposite is true. According to the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 27.6 percent of blacks ages 18-25 and 33.4 percent of whites in that same age group admitted to using marijuana in the past year.

“The war on marijuana has disproportionately been a war on people of color,” Ezekiel Edwards, director of the Criminal Law Reform Project at the ACLU, wrote in response to the newly-released statistics. “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 a tremendous human and financial cost.”

“The war on marijuana has failed, so let’s stop wasting money and resources on escalating marijuana arrests and work on policies that are smarter and fairer at reducing drug dependency,” Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, wrote.

For sheer numbers, New York City continues to lead the world in marijuana arrests by individual municipalities. Although marijuana possession was decriminalized in New York State more than 35 years ago, more than 50,000 people were arrested for low-level pot offenses in New York City in 2011. Many of these arrests were the result of unconstitutional ‘stop-and-frisk’ policing, a practice in which 685,724 New Yorkers were detained in 2011 based mostly on their appearance– 87 percent of them black or Latino, 88 percent of them innocent of any wrongdoing.

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2 Comments

  1. Karl F. BoetelAugust 17, 2013 at 9:19 pmReply

    “But how to explain that huge 18:1 arrest disparity? It’s not that blacks use marijuana any more than whites.”

    Yes, they do. You’re looking at *self-reported* drug use. According to the Dept. of Health & Human Services, blacks “significantly underreport” drug use, which makes these statistics useless. Instead, we can use the fact that *everyone knows* blacks use drugs at higher rates than whites, and stop finding racial discrimination where it don’t exist.

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