NEW ORLEANS—According to a new report by the ACLU, Blacks were arrested for marijuana possession at more than three times the rate of whites 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 disproportionately been a war on people of color,” says 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.”
In Louisiana, the parishes with the largest racial disparity in marijuana possession arrests were Rapides, Calcasieu, East Baton Rouge and Lafourche.. Statewide, police officers made13,435 arrests for marijuana possession in 2010, and marijuana possession rates accounted for37 percent of all drug arrests in 2010. In the past 10 years, marijuana possession arrest rates have risen 10% and the racial disparities among such arrests have increased by one-third.
Although a majority of Americans now support marijuana legalization Louisiana spent $46,450,368 enforcing marijuana laws in 2010. Nationally, states spent an estimated $3.61 billion enforcing marijuana possession laws in 2010 alone.
“It’s time for Louisiana to revisit the cost of marijuana prosecutions,” says Marjorie R. Esman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana. “in Louisiana it’s possible to receive a sentence of life without parole for marijuana possession, if there have been other prior offenses. Meanwhile, being arrested for even a very small amount of marijuana can cost someone a job, result in the loss of student financial aid, lead to the loss of custody, and otherwise disrupt family relationships. 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.” laws has not even accomplished one of law enforcement’s purported goals: to eradicate or even diminish the use of marijuana.”
Louisiana presently has a mechanism to tax marijuana sales, and the ACLU calls for Louisiana to better implement the taxing and licensing of production, distribution, and possession for persons 21 or older, “We can’t afford the amount we spend on marijuana prosecution at a time when we can’t fund our universities and hospitals,” said Esman. “The people of Louisiana would be safer if law enforcement could focus its energy and funds on serious crimes.”
In the report, the organization also urges lawmakers and law enforcement to reform policing practices, including ending racial profiling as well as unconstitutional stops, frisks, and searches, and also to reform state and federal funding streams that incentivize police to make low-level drug arrests.
The report is available for download here.