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Marijuana report: Racial disparity of pot arrests not as bad in Colorado as in most of U.S.

The title of a report from the ACLU -- "The War on Marijuana in Black and White: Billions of Dollars Wasted on Racially Biased Arrests" -- gives a good indication of its contents. The authors argue that the war on pot is a waste of money and African-Americans are disproportionately victimized by it. However, the report maintains that the problems caused by these issues in the United States as a whole are less severe in Colorado, which actually earns praise in its pages. Get details and read the entire report below.

The 175 page report takes in an in-depth look at marijuana arrests throughout the country by race. The document points out the major failings of anti-marijuana enforcement and suggests legalization for those 21 and up as a solution.

This excerpt from the study sums it up best: "The war on marijuana, like the larger war on drugs of which it is a part, is a failure. It has needlessly ensnared hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal justice system, had a staggeringly disproportionate impact on African-Americans, and comes at a tremendous human and financial cost."

This graphic shows statewide arrest rates in Colorado from 2001 to 2010.
This graphic shows statewide arrest rates in Colorado from 2001 to 2010.

This won't come as news to many readers. But the facts and figures are compelling, as are the regular mentions of Colorado, whose citizens earn praise for supporting Amendment 64, which allows adults 21 and over in Colorado to use and possess small amounts of cannabis.

Most of the other news isn't nearly as good.

"In 2010," according to the report, "nearly half (46%) of all drug arrests in America were for marijuana possession, an increase from 34% in 1995." Just as startling is this passage: "Between 2005 and 2010, the percentage of all drug arrests accounted for by marijuana possession arrests increased 21%."

This chart graphically depicts the percentage of drug arrests in Colorado that are for marijuana possession.
This chart graphically depicts the percentage of drug arrests in Colorado that are for marijuana possession.

These numbers are even more exaggerated in certain states. In Alaska, for instance, 81 percent of all drug arrests were for marijuana possession in 2010, while the percentages in Nebraska and Montana were 73 percent and 70 percent, respectively."

In contrast, Colorado finished with 60.7 percent -- eighth lowest in the country, but still higher than virtually any advocate would like.

In addition, Colorado was among the ten states with the lowest levels of racial disparity in arrests. Yet African-Americans here are still 1.9 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than are whites.

And even these figures can be misleading.

Continue for more about the ACLU study, including the complete report.   In the report, the term "whites" might more accurately be referred to as "non-blacks." That's because Latinos are included in the "whites" category, and seven of the ten states with the lowest racial disparity have the largest Latino populations. Given that, a large number of those included in "white" arrests could well be Latinos

This graphic shows Colorado counties with the greatest disparities between white and black arrests.
This graphic shows Colorado counties with the greatest disparities between white and black arrests.

Whatever the case, these arrests haven't been cheap. In 2010, Colorado spent almost $38 million on marijuana possession enforcement.

That same year, Colorado took in almost $2.5 million in sales tax revenues from the same "drug" sold in dispensaries. Make any sense to you? Well, these numbers are nothing compared to California which spent over $490 million on enforcement, while the city of Oakland alone made over a million dollars from dispensaries that year.

Here's the black-to-white arrest ratio in Colorado.
Here's the black-to-white arrest ratio in Colorado.

All these figures can be found in the report, as well as more general information like this: "In 2010, there were over three-quarters of a million arrests for marijuana -- accounting for almost half of the almost 1.7 million drug arrests nationwide -- for which many people were jailed and convicted. Worse yet, Blacks were arrested for marijuana possession at almost four times the rate as whites."

What does the ACLU say should be done to alleviate these problems?

"Legalization through taxation and regulation would raise new revenue that states could apportion to public schools, substance abuse prevention, including community- and school-based programs, as well as to general funds, local budgets, research and health care," the study states. "Legalization would also reduce the demand for marijuana from Mexico, thereby removing the profit incentives of the Mexican marijuana trade and reducing its associated violence."

Here's the complete report:

ACLU Marijuana Report

More from our Marijuana archive: "Tripp Keber, Dixie Elixirs founder, busted for pot possession in Alabama."


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