Blacks Don’t Use Pot More Often than Whites, but Are Twice As Likely to be Arrested for It in California

Thursday, June 06, 2013
(photo: Associated Press)

African-Americans are arrested for marijuana in California at a rate more than twice as high as whites although studies show both use the drug with roughly the same frequency.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) crunched federal data from 2010 and found the state disparity was only half that of the nation as a whole, and considerably less than most states. Blacks are 6.7% of the California population, but make up 16.3% of the pot arrests. The disparity between blacks and whites in the state was 2.2x, the seventh-best mark in the survey.

Every state showed more blacks being arrested for pot than whites, when adjusted for population. The national rate was 3.73x. The black arrest rate was 716 per 100,000 people, while the white rate was 192 per 100,000.

Blacks in Iowa, the District of Columbia, Minnesota and Illinois are eight times more likely to be arrested than whites. “We found that in virtually every county in the country, police have wasted taxpayer money enforcing marijuana laws in a racially biased manner,” Ezekiel Edwards, director of the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project and the lead author of the report, told the New York Times.   

Hawaii had the best disparity rate, 0.99x, followed by Alaska (1.6x), Colorado (1.9x), New Mexico (1.9x), Oregon (2.1x) and Maine (2.1x).

The ACLU study is based on an analysis of data from police records in every state, as well as the District of Columbia. The data was also independently reviewed by Stanford University researchers for the Times.

Despite its reputation for progressive attitudes on race and drugs, San Francisco County had a disparity of 4.3x, the largest in the state but close to the national average. The county was followed by Marin 4.1x, Lake 3.8x, Sacramento 3.7x and Kern 3.4x.

The 10 largest counties in California, listed by population, had the following rates:

  • Los Angeles, 2.6x
  • San Diego, 2.6x
  • Orange, 1.6x
  • Riverside, 2.6x
  • San Bernardino, 2.1x
  • Santa Clara, 2.6x
  • Alameda, 1.3x
  • Sacramento, 3.7x
  • Fresno, 2.6x
  • Contra Costa, 2.8x

There were 889,133 arrests for marijuana, mostly for possession, in the United States in 2010. California was fourth, with 57,260, about half that of the leader, New York (103,698). States spent more than $3.6 billion in 2010 on enforcement of marijuana possession laws, according to the ACLU report. California’s share was $425.5 million.

–Ken Broder  


To Learn More:

Racial Gap in Pot Busts Extends to SF (by Justin Berton, San Francisco Chronicle)

Blacks Are Singled Out for Marijuana Arrests, Federal Data Suggests (by Ian Urbina, New York Times)

Black and White Americans Use Marijuana at Same Rate, but Blacks Far More Likely to be Arrested (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)

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