To say that public perception concerning marijuana has undergone a rather seismic shift over the last few years would be something of an understatement. To illustrate, consider the following:
- At least 15 states now have laws in place decriminalizing marijuana, such that there is no incarceration or permanent criminal record for first-time possession of a small amount of the drug
- At least 18 states and the District of Columbia now have laws in place legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes
- A Pew Research Center poll conducted this spring revealed that a majority of Americans favor legalization of marijuana
Interestingly, despite this shift in state laws and popular opinion, both federal and state officials continue to arrest people in large numbers for marijuana-related crimes. In fact, statistics show that roughly half of all drug crime arrests in 2010 involved pot, with the states spending an estimated $3.6 billion on enforcement alone.
As if this wasn't disconcerting enough, a recently released report by the American Civil Liberties Union reveals that there was also a significant racial disparity in marijuana-related arrests as recently as 2010.
Here, they determined that black Americans were almost four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession in 2010 than white Americans, despite the fact that usage among these two groups was virtually identical.
"We found that in virtually every county in the country, police have wasted taxpayer money enforcing marijuana laws in a racially biased manner," said Ezekiel Edwards, the primary author of the report.
The ACLU report theorized that one of the reasons behind these numbers could be that law enforcement agencies are typically slow to change their longstanding policies and procedures.
Specifically, they point to federal grant programs that make total arrest numbers part of the overall performance metric. This practice, they argue, compels law enforcement agencies to patrol lower-income neighborhoods to pursue as many low-level, non-felony arrests as possible.
"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," said Prof. Phillip Atiba Goff of UCLA.
What are your thoughts on this shocking report?
Whether you have been charged with misdemeanor possession or any other type of drug crime, be certain to contact an experienced legal professional.
This post was provided for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice.
The New York Times, "Blacks are singled out for marijuana arrests, federal data suggests," Ian Urbina, June 3, 2013