Weed Wars

Dispatches from the California Marijuana Front

June 29, 2010
Report: African-Americans disproportionately targeted for pot

An analysis of arrest data in major California counties shows that African-Americans are far more likely to be booked for marijuana possession - even though pot use is lower among blacks than whites.

Those are the results of a study by the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group seeking alternatives to the drug war.

In a Sacramento press conference today, which accompanied the California state NAACP's endorsement of the November initiative to legalize recreational marijuana use, the group revealed stark disparities in the racial breakdown in pot arrests.

In Sacramento and San Francisco Counties, black residents were arrested for marijuana possession four times as often as white residents. In Los Angeles County, the disparity was more than three to one, according to the analysis of California arrest data from 2004 through 2008.

"These racially-biased (arrests for) marijuana offenses are a statewide phenomenon...in nearly every county and every police department in this state," said Stephen Gutwillig, California director for the Drug Policy Alliance.

Gutwillig said marijuana possession arrests are the only California crime category in which arrests increased from 1990 to 2008. During that period, rape arrests were down by 67 percent, murder arrests were down by 63 percent and overall arrests were down 40 percent. But marijuana possession arrests went up by 127 percent, he said.

"That's got to tell you something about the efforts of law enforcement - where the resources are going, and where the energy is going," said Neil Franklin, a former police officer from Baltimore who is executive director of a pro-marijuana legalization group, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

To read the Drug Policy Alliance report, click here.

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