The racial divide in the war on marijuana

Everybody smokes pot. Old or young, male or female, rich or poor, black or white or any other color. National survey data consistently shows that marijuana is used universally by people of all demographics. Despite this, there is dramatic inequality in the amount of suffering that has befallen certain racial groups as a result of the war on marijuana law enforcement.

The ACLU’s comprehensive report on marijuana possession and race

In 2013, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released a comprehensive study on the racial disparity found in the war on marijuana. In particular, the study examined arrest rates for marijuana possession. The report compiled and analyzed data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program, comparing it against demographic data from the United States Census.

The ACLU summarized its findings into five main points. The entire report is worth reading, but its executive summary provides an overview that makes this race war within a drug war as clear as black and white.

Arrests for marijuana possession are by far the most common arrests made in the war on marijuana. Despite the fact that marijuana usage rates by race are generally comparable, in 2010, Blacks were 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites. Not only is this racial divide real, but it’s growing. That figure is 32.7% larger than it was in 2001.

Kentucky shows stark racial divide

The report included state-by-state analyses, and the racial disparity in Kentucky is approaching double what it is nationwide. In Kentucky, a black person is 5.95 times more likely to be arrested for possession than a white person. This rate is the fifth highest out of all 50 states. Within Kentucky, some counties show even more alarming disparities. In Nelson County, Blacks are over 32 times more likely to be arrested; two other counties have figures in the double-digits.

The disparity becomes even more obvious when rates of arrest are compared to the racial makeup of the population. In Kentucky, Blacks make up only 8% of the state’s population, but constitute 36% of the state’s marijuana possession arrests. Breaking arrest rates down by county reveals even more extreme inequality.

Just like the national divide, the gap of inequality in Kentucky is growing at an alarming clip. In 2001, Blacks were a little over twice as likely to be arrested than whites. This rate grew by 146% by 2010. Like its ranking in arrest rates, that rate of increase was also the fifth highest in the nation.

This disappointing data illuminates the war on race that exists within the war on drugs – both of which are letting America down. The report ends on a hopeful note, though, proposing changes that could end both of these catastrophes. The data is clear: the war on marijuana is unjust in every way, and it’s time to end it.

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