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California Blacks Disproportionately Busted for Marijuana, Report Finds [FEATURE]

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #655)
Consequences of Prohibition
Drug War Issues

In a new report released Friday, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and the California NAACP charged that African-Americans have been disproportionately targeted in low-level marijuana possession arrests. The report, Arresting Blacks for Marijuana Possession in California: Possession Arrests in 25 Cities, 2006-2008, found that despite lower use rates, African-Americans were three, four, six, or even 13 times more likely to be arrested for pot possession than whites.

The report's release is timed to give Proposition 19, the marijuana legalization initiative, a boost in the few remaining days until election day. It was released at a press conference where California NAACP and DPA representatives were joined by Prop 19 campaign head Richard Lee, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) executive director Neill Franklin, Hollywood actor Danny Glover, and former US Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders. 

The report found that in Los Angeles, with 10% of the state's black population, blacks were seven times more likely to get busted than whites. In San Diego, the state's second largest city, blacks were six times more likely to get busted. Ditto for Sacramento. In Torrance, blacks were 13 times more likely to be busted than whites.

"This report documents enormous, widespread race-based disparities in the arrests of nonviolent, low-level marijuana possession offenders," said Stephen Gutwillig, California state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "The context is an enormous increase in the number of arrests for low-level possession in the past 20 years. Arrest rates for all other crimes have plummeted, from rape and murder to all other drug possession crimes, but marijuana possession arrests have tripled since 1990, from around 20,000 then to 61,000 last year. This was made possible by the targeting of communities of color, specifically African-Americans and Latinos, and more specifically, young African-Americans and Latinos."

It's not just that blacks are arrested disproportionately to whites. They are also arrested at rates far exceeding their percentage of the population. In Los Angeles, blacks make up 10% of the population, but 35% of all marijuana possession arrests. In Sacramento, it's 14% and 50%.

"These disparities were built from routine, pervasive, system-wide police practices," said Gutwillig. "This is not the result of a few racist cops; this is the way the system works."

"I don't think there is any question this is a civil rights issue," said California NAACP executive director Alice Huffman. "If you don't believe that, you don't believe in justice in America."

"We're spending billions of dollars each year on the war on drugs," said Dr. Elders. "It's been a war on young black males. Wars are supposed to end sometime. It's time to end this war. Proposition 19 is an opportunity to take drugs out of the hands of the drug cartels and put them where they can be controlled and taxed."

"This is not about a right to get high, it's an issue of a policy that does not work and is damaging to our society and most importantly, specifically damaging to people of color," said LEAP's Neill Franklin. "Marijuana prohibition is the most dysfunctional public policy in this country since slavery. The violence generated in our communities is unbelievable and it's because of the criminal market this policy creates. The lives of young African-Americans are being lost every day, and whether they lose their lives to violence or to a prison sentence, both are devastating," he said.

"This is an opportunity for law enforcement to get it right," said the former Maryland narcotics officer. "We spend a majority of our time dealing with low-level drug offenders, mainly marijuana," Franklin said. "In the 1960s, we solved nine out of 10 murders; now it's six out of 10. When you apprehend a murderer, murders go down. But when you take someone off the streets for selling marijuana, sales don't go down, and the violence increases because people are fighting for market share."

"I want to say publicly that I support Proposition 19," said film star Danny Glover. "The current laws do not work; they have failed us," he said. "We know we are arrested disproportionately. This is a civil rights issue," he maintained.

"I'm not a marijuana smoker, although I have tried it in the past, but I don't want to stand in the way of people who want to use marijuana recreationally," Glover continued. "This is a long battle, and we're on the right side."

"I've always seen cannabis prohibition as causing a war between police and citizens," said Lee. "Police are supposed to serve and protect, not wage war on the populace. We need police back protecting us from real criminals, not ourselves."

The Prop 19 campaign and DPA did it again this week, this time with Latino marijuana possession arrest rates. But it's already clear that racial disparities in the enforcement of California's pot laws exist, and simply decriminalizing marijuana possession, as Gov. Schwarzenegger did last month, will not change anything in that regard, at least not directly. Minority youths can still be hassled, harassed, and searched for an infraction, just as they were for a misdemeanor. It will take legalization to end such practices.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


The scurrilous, racist attacks directed at Blacks and Hispanics and used as justifications for marijuana prohibition are well known. That in itself makes it inexplicable to me as to how any African-American could support marijuana prohibition. But this further evidence of how minorities are the primary casualties of this sick war demands that we put a stop to a public policy crippling and saddling the young men in our minority communities.

Sat, 10/23/2010 - 12:20pm Permalink
rita (not verified)

more likely to be arrested, more likely to go to prison for more years.  These statistics are nothing new, and the picture is pretty much the same in every state in the nation.  Prohibition has its roots in racism; it was started to oppress certain minorities.  Even alcohol prohibition -- that "noble experiment" -- started as tee-totalling Protestant backlash against the whiskey-drinking wine-swilling Irish and Italian Catholic immigrants.  Some people say we should end prohibition because it's failed; I say we should end it because it's an unqualified success.

Sat, 10/23/2010 - 12:37pm Permalink
Moonrider (not verified)

In reply to by rita (not verified)

end prohibition because it is just plain immoral, just plan wrong and unAmerican because it is anti-freedom.

Sun, 10/24/2010 - 4:46pm Permalink
newageblues (not verified)

If adults have the right to use alcohol, then other adults have an inalienable right to use cannabis, since all but the blindest enemies of cannabis will admit it's no worse than alcohol. Selective prohibition of cannabis violates the essence of the principles of anti-discrimination, equal protection under the law, and liberty and justice for all. And the continuing stonewalling refusal to seriously discuss the subject shows contempt for the Declaration of Independence's injunction to show a decent respect for the opinion of mankind.

Sun, 10/24/2010 - 1:48pm Permalink
PhoenixSpirit (not verified)

Dear Fellow Anti-Drug Warriors:

I am an avid reader and have never found a better study than this one published a few years ago in TruthDigg. It explains in detail how the Drug War from the beginning in the 1930's was always aimed at getting rid of Mexicans and then African-Americans who were competing with white people for jobs, first after the depression and then after World War II. Here's the link: 

The drug of choice for white Europeans has always been alcohol. The drug of choice for Mexicans and African-Americans has tended to be cannabis. Therefore, by making cannabis illegal and not alcohol, it has been possible to lock up entire classes of people who white America does not want at the voting booth.

Read this article and you will walk away believing that the War on Drugs has always been a war on people of color, no more and no less.

Remember the disparity in sentencing between powder cocaine and crack cocaine? Exact same issue, just a different drug. One set of laws for black people using cocaine, another set of laws for white people using cocaine. Did you ever think about the fact that black people can't reproduce and build families while they are in prison? The War on Drugs has been effective in getting rid of an entire race of people by keeping them locked up. Is the US worse than South Africa during apartheid? It's a question worth asking.

I have had enough, and I'm just not going to take any more of it.


Thu, 10/28/2010 - 2:13pm Permalink

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