Racial Disparities Persist in Marijuana Enforcement
Black Kentuckians are 9.4 times more likely than white Kentuckians to be arrested for marijuana possession.
As the War on Drugs continues throughout the U.S., Kentucky remains near the top when it comes to racial disparities for arrests for marijuana possession. Black Kentuckians are 9.4 times more likely than white Kentuckians to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite both groups having similar national marijuana use rates. This rate is second only to Montana, where Black people are 9.6 times more likely to be arrested than white people. Illinois is in a more distant third place, at 7.5 times the rate for Black people. Nationally, Blacks were 3.64 times more likely to be arrested than whites. Although the total number of people arrested for marijuana possession has decreased in the past decade, nationally, law enforcement still made 6.1 million such arrests over that period, and the racial disparities in arrest rates remain in every state.
A Tale of Two Countries: Racially Targeted Arrests in the Era of Marijuana Reform
This national report from the ACLU details marijuana possession arrests from 2010 to 2018 and updates our unprecedented national report published in 2013, The War on Marijuana in Black and White. The disturbing findings of this new research show that despite several states having reformed marijuana policy over the last decade, far too much has remained unchanged when it comes to racial disparities in arrests.
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- Across the U.S., law enforcement made more than 6.1 million marijuana-related arrests from 2010 to 2018. In Kentucky alone, there were 7,600 marijuana arrests in 2018, the vast majority of which were for possession. In 2018, marijuana possession arrests accounted for 20 percent of all drug arrests in Kentucky.
- Nationally, in 2018, law enforcement made more marijuana arrests than for all violent crimes combined.
- Despite legalization in a number of states, it is not clear that marijuana arrests are trending downward nationally. National arrest rates have actually risen in the past few years, with almost 100,000 more arrests in 2018 than 2015.
- A Black person in Kentucky is 9.4 times more likely to be arrested marijuana possession than a white person. In fact, Kentucky ranks 2ndin the nation for largest racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests.
- Although the overwhelming majority of Kentuckycounties have racial disparities, Kenton, Graves, Daviess, Hopkins and McCracken have the largest disparities in marijuana arrests. In those counties Black Kentuckians are 14.36-7.8 times more likely to face arrest over marijuana possession.
- Overall, these disparities have not improved. Nationally, a Black person is 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, even though Black and white people use marijuana at similar rates. In ten states, Blacks were more than 5 times more likely to be arrested.
- Overall, in states that legalized marijuana, arrest rates decreased after legalization while racial disparities remained.
A Tale of Two Countries: Racially Targeted Arrests in the Era of Marijuana Reformcomes at a time when the criminal legal system is overwhelmed by the COVID-19 public health crisis that demands expedited decarcercal action to safeguard the lives of those incarcerated in and employed by jails and prisons. The reforms recommended in this report provide a road map for reducing marijuana arrests and criminalization as governors, prosecutors, judges, and other stakeholders across the country grapple with the harms presented by the public health crisis and take steps to release people from jails and prisons.