Black Kentuckians are 9.4 times more likely than their white peers to be arrested for marijuana possession. This is second only to Montana and nearly 3 times the national average. Ending the failed war on drugs demands legalizing marijuana possession and use. 

As the failed war on drugs continues throughout the United States, 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.

Mass incarceration:

The criminalization of marijuana possession and use is at the core of the failed war on drugs that has terrorized communities of color and fueled mass incarceration. Mass incarceration tears families apart, weakens communities, and creates deadly overcrowded in jails and prisons.

Deadly policing practices:

The war on drugs relies upon some of the most dangerous policing tactics. No-knock warrants, like the one used in the raid that led to Breonna Taylor's murder, are a staple of the war on drugs. Roughly 60% of these deadly raids are used in search of drugs.


Many people depend on marijuana to treat common medical conditions. Contemporary scientific evidence confirms the countless stories of the therapeutic effects of medical marijuana, which has provided unique relief for people living with serious conditions, such as cancer and AIDS, when no other medicine is as effective or free of side effects such as nausea or loss of appetite.

Medical marijuana is legal in 37 states and roughly 94% of Americans support legalization. Roughly 5.46 million patients nationwide now use medical marijuana as recommended by their doctors and in accordance with state laws.

Stubbornly denying the medical benefits of marijuana – and thus treating it differently than more serious drugs subject to extreme abuse – is scientifically unsound and deprives seriously ill patients of much-needed pain relief.


It is critical that states’ legalization schemes must be equitable and grounded in racial justice. We cannot undo the harms perpetuated by marijuana prohibition, but we can chart a smarter, fairer future that uplifts and repairs the people and communities most harmed by criminalization.

For Federal, State, and Local Governments:
  • Legalize marijuana use and possession
  • Do not replace marijuana prohibition with a system of fines, fees, and arrests
  • Grant clemency to or resentence anyone incarcerated on a marijuana conviction and expunge all marijuana convictions
  • Eliminate collateral consequences that result from marijuana arrests or convictions
  • Ensure new legal markets benefit and are accessible to communities most harmed by the war on drugs
  • Ensure marijuana possession and other low-level offense arrests are not included in performance measures for federal funding
For Law Enforcement Agencies:
  • End the enforcement of marijuana possession and distribution
  • End racial profiling by police
  • Eliminate consent searches
  • End the practice of using raw numbers of stops, citations, summons, and arrests as a metric to measure productivity and efficacy
  • Develop systems for the routine collection of accurate data on a range of police practices
  • Invest in nonpunitive programs and community-based services and divest from law enforcement
  • Develop, secure, and implement strong, independent, and effective oversight mechanisms for local law enforcement

Read more about racial disparities in marijuana-related arrests in Kentucky and nationwide from the 2020 national ACLU report "A Tale of Two Countries: Racially Targeted Arrests in the Era of Marijuana Reformcomes."


2022 General Assembly