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Analysis, page 1

United States Marijuana Arrests, Part Two:
Racial Differences in Drug Arrests

Copyright © 2000 by Jon Gettman and the NORML Foundation

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Contents

Abstract 
List of Tables 
Section One: Introduction
Section Two:Primary Results
Section Three:Marijuana
Section Four:Other Drugs
Section Five:Commentary
Appendix 1:Arrest and Population Data for Drug Arrest Rates 1995
Appendix 2:Racial Disparities in 1995 Arrests
Appendix 3:Annual Use of Marijuana and Illicit Drugs in 1995, by Race

Abstract

Data from the Uniform Crime Reports and the United States Census Bureau are used to characterize racial disparities in marijuana and other drug offense arrest rates in 700 metropolitan area counties.  National drug arrest rates for blacks and whites are compared from 1991 to 1995, showing dramatic and consistent disparities.  The disparity between black and white arrest rates for marijuana offenses has grown during this period.  Other comparisons rely on more extensive use of 1995 national and metropolitan county level data. The black arrest rate for all drug offenses is four times the arrest rate for whites.  The black arrest rate for marijuana offenses is 2.5 times the arrest rate for whites.   When controlling for drug use the black rate is 2.89 times higher for drug possession and 2.27 times higher for marijuana possession than in the context of legal standards affecting federal drug laws.   Examining arrest rates at the county level when all drug offenses are considered the arrest rate for blacks is greater than twice the arrest rate for whites in 85 percent of the counties reviewed.  The black arrest rate for marijuana possession is greater than the white rate in 90 percent of the counties reviewed, and more than twice the white rate in 64 percent of them.  Differences in arrest rates for marijuana possession, marijuana sales, opiate/cocaine possession and opiate/cocaine sales are considered in greater detail. Racial differences in marijuana and other drug arrest rates are stark, unambiguous, and represent a serious threat to the integrity of our criminal justice system.  The report contains several summary tables of data.  Comprehensive tables presenting 1995 data for all 700 counties in 11 offense categories are provided with the Internet version of the report.

List of Tables

Table 1.

Disparities in Black and White Drug Arrest Rates, 1991 - 1995

Table 2.

Reconciliation of 1995 Metro Area Marijuana Possession Arrests and Annual Marijuana Use Estimates.

Table 3.

Reconciliation of 1995 Metro Area Drug Possession Arrests and Annual Drug Use Estimates.

Table 4.

Distribution of Ratio of Black Arrest Rates to White Arrest Rates

Table 5.

Selected Summary Data of Marijuana Possession Arrest Rates

Table 6.

Greatest Disparities in Black and White Marijuana Possession Arrest Rates in Metropolitan Core Counties

Table 7.

Greatest Disparities in Black and White Marijuana Possession Arrest Rates in Metropolitan Counties

Table 8.

Greatest Disparities in American Indian and White Marijuana Possession Arrest Rates in Metropolitan Counties

Table 9.

Greatest Disparities in Asian-Pacific and White Marijuana Possession Arrest Rates in Metropolitan Counties

Table 10.

Greatest Disparities in Black and White Marijuana Sales Arrest Rates in Metropolitan Counties

Table 11.

Consolidated Summary of National Arrest Rates by Drug Category

Table 12.

Selected States With Largest and Smallest Disparities Between 1995 Black and White Arrest Rates for Opiate/Cocaine Possession.

Table 13.

Metropolitan Core Counties With Largest Disparities Between 1995 Black and White Arrest Rates for Opiate/Cocaine Possession.

Table 14.

Metropolitan Core Counties With Largest Disparities Between 1995 Black and White Arrest Rates for Opiate/Cocaine Sales.



US Marijuana Arrests, Part Two:
Racial Differences in Drug Arrests

By Jon Gettman

Section One:  Introduction

Blacks are arrested more frequently for drug offenses than whites. This disparity is consistent over time and holds up regardless of the region of the country, the nature of the drug offense considered and levels of drug use by each racial group. Arrest rates in 700 metropolitan area counties provide the basic data of the report and the ratio of arrest rates for blacks to those for whites is its basic unit of analysis for differences in arrest rates.

Black arrest rates for marijuana offenses in 1995 were at least twice the arrest rate for whites in 64 percent of the metropolitan counties reviewed in this report, and greater than white arrest rates in 88 percent of them.  In 1995, arrest rates for all drug offenses for blacks were twice that of whites in 85 percent of the 700 metropolitan counties reviewed, and greater than white rates in 97 percent of them.

Important Questions Raised

Uniform Crime Report (UCR) arrest data maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are used in this report to answer these questions:

  • How do black and white drug arrest rates compare over time?
  • How does accounting for the number of drug users affect the comparison between drug arrest rates for blacks and whites?
  • What differences exist at the local level between black and white drug arrest rates?

The magnitude of the racial differences in marijuana and other drug arrest rates are a matter of concern for all Americans.  The differences in drug arrest rates, marijuana arrest rates in particular, between blacks and whites presents a compelling question for the public and their political representatives.  Are these disparities in black and white arrest rates acceptable outcomes for our law enforcement policies and practices?

The following data shows whether racial differences exist in the enforcement of the nation's marijuana and drug laws.  After reviewing national data from 1991 to 1995 the report focuses on regional similarities in drug arrest rates, which will be summarized in several tables.  One appendix (available only on the Internet: www.norml.org) also includes over 500 tables of racial data on arrest rates for the sales and possession of the following categories of drug offenses: marijuana, all illegal drugs, opiates/cocaine, synthetic narcotic drugs, and other non-narcotic drugs.  Data for 700 metropolitan area counties are reported on a national, state, and county level.  Additional tables are provided to compare most of the nation's largest cities as well as metropolitan area counties where the black population represents one-third or more of the population.

The most important findings of this report are:

  • The black arrest rate for all drug offenses is four times the arrest rate for whites;
  • The black arrest rate for marijuana offenses is 2.5 times the arrest rate for whites;
  • When controlling for drug use levels the black arrest rate for marijuana possession is 2.27 times higher than the white arrest rate;
  • When controlling for drug use levels the black arrest rate for all drug possession offenses is 2.89 times higher than the white arrest rate;
  • The disparity between black and white arrests rates for marijuana increased between 1991, when the black arrest rate was 2.13 times higher, and 1995 when the black arrest rate was 2.56 higher nationally than for white;
  • Black arrest rates for marijuana are over twice the white arrest rate in over 2/3 of metropolitan area counties;
  • Black arrest rates for other drug offenses are over twice the white arrest rate in over 4/5 of metropolitan area counties;
  • Black arrest rates are generally lower in jurisdictions with large black populations, but regardless of the level of the black arrest rate for any drug offense it is typically twice or greater than the white rate for the same crime in the same jurisdiction;
  • The disparity between black and white arrest rates for drug offenses increases with the severity of the offense;

Prior studies by Human Rights Watch[1] and the Justice Policy Institute[2] have used prison admission data for several years to establish and characterize racial disparities related to drug offenses.   These studies left a few questions unanswered because of the limitations of the available data on prison admissions.  This study instead relies on arrest data.

Questions of racial bias affect the integrity of investigations, arrests, and prosecutorial discretion.  These junctures in the system influence the costs of drug offenses and to what extent the individual costs are borne by white, blacks, and/or other minorities.  Prison admissions and incarceration rates increase when arrests increase.  However, do racial disparities exist for all drug offenses or just for the more serious sales-related offenses that result in prison terms?  Arrest data can show whether or not arrest rates for blacks for drug offenses are significantly higher than for whites regardless of the type of drug, the type of offense, the location, and regional drug use levels.  This study demonstrates that the racial disparities previously characterized by Human Rights Watch and the Justice Policy Institute are demonstrative of contemporary drug law enforcement and are pervasive throughout the country.

Section two of the report will describe the data and present the primary results that provide the foundation of this report.  The following section will review local data on marijuana arrests from 1995, followed by a review of local data on other drug arrests for the same year. The report concludes with a commentary on the significance of these findings introduced above.

Section Two:  Primary Results

Data

This report rests on the presentation of comprehensive data and a minimum of statistical analysis.  The report primarily relies on arrest rates for different racial groups and ratios of comparison between them.  In terms of comparisons of local areas the distribution of these ratios will be used to summarize the data, answering three questions:  what percentage of metropolitan counties is the black arrest rate less than the white rate, what percentage is it greater but less than twice the white rate, and in what percentage is the black rate more than twice the white rate?

Uniform Crime Report data from 1991 to 1995 from about 700 metropolitan area counties are used to compare drug arrest data over time, and 1995 data are used for other comparisons.[3]  The 1991 to 1995 data demonstrates that the 1995 data is representative of general trends in arrest rates for this period.  This is the most recent data available that provides information on arrests by race on a comprehensive basis, despite being limited to metropolitan area police agencies.  The 1991 data, for example, consists of reports from 7,984 police departments that can be summarized at the agency, county, metropolitan area, or state level.  This report focuses primarily on county-level summaries of local arrest rates.  While data is not available for every metro area county, all of the available data for 1995 are reported.  The 1995 metropolitan area data set, for example,  used for this report includes 1,076,816 of the nation-wide total 1,476,199 drug arrests reported by the UCR data, or 73 percent of the nation-wide total for arrests in 1995.

The metropolitan area UCR data set provides the number of arrests for each of four racial categories: black, white, American Indian, and Asian-Pacific.  The coverage population of the reporting agencies is also provided.  A county may contain several law enforcement agencies but the available data may not include all of them.  Consequently the coverage population reported may not agree with the full population of the county.  The purpose of reporting the coverage population is that it can be used with total arrests to calculate the arrest rate per 100,000.

The UCR does not report racial population figures.  Racial population levels have been estimated by applying US Census data[4] on the racial composition of each county to the coverage population reported by the UCR.  If a county is estimated to have an American Indian population of two percent then for use in this report the American Indian population will be estimated at 2 percent of the coverage population.  The resulting racial population estimates have been used to calculate the arrest rates that provide the basis for this report.

UCR Data are available for numerous offenses including 11 categories of drug offenses.  In addition to data on all drug arrests this report provides separate data on sales and possession offenses involving four categories of drugs. The UCR provides data on all drug arrests as well as data of arrests for drug possession and sales. Four categories are used to provide more specific data on arrests for different types of controlled substances: 1) Opium and Cocaine and their derivatives (such as Crack, Morphine, Heroin); 2) Marijuana; 3) Synthetic Narcotics - Manufactured Narcotics which can cause true drug addiction (such as Demerol, Methadone); 4) Other Dangerous Non-Narcotic Drugs (such as Barbiturates, Benzedrine, and Methamphetamine).

All arrest rates are expressed per 100,000 population except rates involving drug users, in which the rates are expressed per 100,000 users.

Racial Disparities in Drug Arrests, 1991 - 1995

Question #1: How do black and white drug arrest rates compare over time?

In 1995, there were a total of 588,964 marijuana arrests and 887,136 non-marijuana drug arrests in the entire country (including both metro and non-metro area arrests).  Non-marijuana drug arrests have been relatively stable over the last five years, and the 1998 level of 876,214 is nearly 10 percent less than the 1989 level of 962,722. From 1989 to 1998, all drug arrests increased 12.66 percent. However, because non-marijuana arrests fell 9.87 percent in this period, it was the 41.57 percent increase in marijuana arrests that accounts for the increase in total drug arrests during this period.   See Figure 1.


 

Drug arrests increased dramatically from 1991 to 1995 and the effects of this increase on arrests rates per 100,000 for blacks and whites can be seen in Figures 2 through 6 below.


 

Figure 2. shows the magnitude of the differences in black and white arrest rates for all drug offenses and its consistency over this five year period.  The overall arrest rate for whites during this period nearly doubled yet this did not alter the fundamental imbalance between the two arrest rates.

The most significant change apparent in the 1991 - 1995 data concerns arrests for marijuana offenses.  As noted above this is the greatest growth area for drug arrests over the last 10 years.  The increases in arrests create increases in arrest rates, and these increases can be seen in the increase in the black rate for marijuana sales in 1994 and 1995 (See  Figure 3).


 

The greatest contribution to growth in the drug arrest rate, though, is in marijuana possession arrest rates.  Here (in Figure  4) increases are evident in both black and white arrest rates, however the increase in the black rate accelerates faster than the white rate over the five-year period.


 

Figures 5 and 6 below show the differences in arrest rates per 100,000 population for opiate/cocaine offenses, sales and possession respectively.  The same general trends are apparent -- stark differences consistent over time with little change in the disparity between black and white arrest rates.

Table 1.  Disparities in Black and White Drug Arrest Rates, 1991 - 1995

  

Rate Per 100,000

Ratio black: white

Offense

Year

All

black

white

Am.

Indian

As.

Pacific

        

All Drug Arrests

1991

411.58

1,389.06

273.26

140.49

52.35

5.08

 

1992

471.75

1,498.85

327.72

164.86

59.09

4.57

 

1993

496.78

1,539.31

353.10

180.56

57.90

4.36

 

1994

564.62

1,690.07

408.18

217.60

67.22

4.14

 

1995

596.19

1,755.32

439.94

240.12

72.69

3.99

        

Marijuana Possession

1991

89.79

172.37

81.03

49.16

13.64

2.13

 

1992

108.87

199.05

99.99

61.32

14.31

1.99

 

1993

129.30

256.12

116.30

74.39

14.85

2.20

 

1994

161.03

345.04

140.62

91.52

17.91

2.45

 

1995

193.23

425.70

166.04

103.63

23.44

2.56

        

Marijuana Sales

1991

29.02

66.73

24.59

10.44

2.18

2.71

 

1992

32.50

67.57

28.64

11.89

2.85

2.36

 

1993

32.56

78.38

27.01

14.01

3.05

2.90

 

1994

35.51

92.92

28.18

15.27

3.33

3.30

 

1995

36.92

101.17

28.39

18.00

3.99

3.56

        

Opiate/Cocaine Poss.

1991

159.16

603.74

94.37

37.71

19.78

6.40

 

1992

183.60

677.93

111.07

47.06

21.50

6.10

 

1993

182.81

671.57

112.86

47.80

20.29

5.95

 

1994

197.85

706.44

125.09

56.62

23.11

5.65

 

1995

192.60

657.44

124.99

54.01

21.44

5.26

        

Opiate/Cocaine Sales

1991

110.81

517.15

47.37

14.39

11.97

10.92

 

1992

128.41

537.78

65.12

13.24

10.62

8.26

 

1993

126.56

538.87

63.02

16.48

8.36

8.55

 

1994

126.91

532.08

64.15

13.85

8.48

8.29

 

1995

116.87

488.21

58.52

15.52

7.99

8.34

Table 1 (above) presents the data used in Figures 2-6 and the actual ratios of black to white arrest rates.  The disparity between black and white arrest rates for opiate/cocaine offenses decreased during this time span, contributing to a decrease in the overall disparity in arrest rates for drug offenses.  However the disparity between racial arrest rates increased with marijuana offenses.  For marijuana sales offenses the ratio of black to white rates increased from 2.73 to 3.59 while for marijuana possession offenses the ratio increased from 2.13 to 2.59.  In both cases the surge in racial disparities occurred in 1994 and 1995.

Drug Arrests and Drug Use, 1995

Question #2:  How do black and white drug arrest rates compare to arrest rates for other offenses?

The arrest rates for blacks are greater than those for white for almost any crime included in Uniform Crime Report.   (See Appendix 2.) The only crime the arrest rate for whites is greater than for blacks is driving under the influence.  Such disparities are not unique to drug offenses, particularly those involving opiates and cocaine which exhibit some of the highest disparities between black and white arrest rates.

Explaining the differences between black and white arrest rates for all offenses is beyond the scope of this report.  In this context it is important to note that such disparities exist for just about all criminal offenses.  This provides one explanation for why the black arrest rate for drug offenses is higher than that for whites – the criminal justice system routinely arrests blacks at a higher rate than whites, regardless of the offense.  It is a characteristic of the criminal justice system in the United States.  Regardless of explanations, racial disparities are systematic and have become a consequence of existing law enforcement practices.

What, then, makes drug offenses different from other offenses in terms of evaluating the characteristics of the criminal justice system?  Two attributes of drug offenses distinguish them for the purpose of this discussion – discretion and reliable estimates of offenders.  Police exercise a great deal of discretion in their professional decision making.  Respect for this discretion is one of the most important professional values in the field of law enforcement.  Like other so-called "victimless crimes," drug possession offenses provide some of the greatest latitude for police discretion.  In many instances confiscation and a warning are justified alternatives to arrest, especially when marijuana is involved.   Drug offenses are also different from other offenses because there are reliable estimates of the known number of offenders and their race. With most crimes there is an underlying assumption that the number and distribution of arrests is determined by those who commit the crimes, that is, that if more blacks are arrested than whites it is because more blacks committed crimes than whites, or committed crimes at a higher rate.  However, reliable national survey data doesn’t support a rational explanation for the great racial disparity in U.S. drug arrests.

The National Household Survey (NHS), published by the Department of Health and Human Services, provides data for producing estimates of the number of drug users by race.[5]   These estimates of using populations are available at a regional level of analysis. (These estimates are provided in Appendix 1.)  The prevalence of annual drug use for both blacks and whites has been derived for each of nine regions of the country and applied to the coverage population in each region.  The results provide counts of the number of possession arrests and the estimated number of drug users in each region.  For this report these figures have been reconciled into arrest rates of the drug using population.  This provides a way to determine if the magnitude of the disparities between black and white arrest rates is in any way explained by differences in the prevalence of drug use.

Survey Data

Survey data reports slightly higher drug use by blacks than by whites.  According to the 1995 National Household Survey 7.9 percent of blacks report use of any illicit drug within the past 30 days compared to 6.0 percent for whites. On this basis, illegal drug use by blacks is 32 percent higher than illegal drug use by whites.  However, the overall arrest rate for blacks for drug offenses (1,749 per 100,000) is four times the rate for whites (440).  Marijuana use is 25 percent higher among blacks (5.9 percent) than among whites (4.7 percent) but the arrest rate for blacks for marijuana possession is 2.6 times higher than it is for whites.

Reported cocaine use in the last month by blacks (1.1 percent) is almost twice as high as reported use by whites (.6 percent) but this does not explain why the arrest rate for blacks for opiate/cocaine possession is five times higher than the rate for whites.

Annual Versus Monthly Use

Drug use prevalence estimates from the NHS have been used to calculate the number of drug users in each of the regional populations from which arrest data is available.  In other words, the NHS estimates the percentage of each racial group in each region that uses drugs on an annual basis.  The NHS estimates for annual use of marijuana and for annual use of any illicit drug, by region, are provided in Appendix 1.  On an annual basis the overall difference between drug use by blacks and whites narrows.  While a greater percentage of blacks (9.49 percent) had used marijuana in the past year than whites (8.36 percent), the difference was only 13.5 percent higher, much less than the difference in monthly use.  On an annual basis 12.3 percent of blacks had used any illicit drug in the past year, compared to 10.63 percent for whites, black use being 15.7 percent higher than white use.

Arrest Rate

The regional percentage estimates from the National Household Survey data have been applied to the coverage populations represented by the UCR arrest data and used to calculate arrest rates to estimate the number of drug users by race in the coverage populations of each region.  Table 2 summarizes the reconciliation of 1995 marijuana possession and annual marijuana use data for this metropolitan area data.

The metro area total for marijuana possession arrests in 339,605.  The estimate of metro area marijuana users is 14,626,139.  The arrest rate for metro area marijuana users, for marijuana possession offenses, is 2,322 per 100,000.  This means that 2.3 percent of all marijuana users were arrested for possession.  The user arrest rate varies from 1.2 percent of all marijuana users in the Pacific region to 3.3 percent of all marijuana users in the West South Central region.

However, when black and white sub-populations are examined the marijuana user arrest rate for blacks is 4,531 compared to 1,997 for whites. The black rate is still 2.27 times higher than the white rate.  The black rate varies from 1,662 in the Pacific region to 6,109 in the West North Central region  (data is not available for blacks in New England).  The white rate varies from 1,223 in the Pacific region to 3,184 in the West South Central region.  The ratio of the black arrest rate to the white arrest rate is highest in the West North Central states (3.17) and lowest in the Mountain states (1.27).

Table 3 summarizes the reconciliation of 1995 drug possession and annual drug use data for this metropolitan area data. The metro area total for all drug possession arrests is 797,903.  The estimate of metro area drug users, of any illicit drug including marijuana, is 18,801,903.

The arrest rate for metro area drug users, for drug possession offenses, is 4,245 per 100,000 users, or 4.2 percent.  The user arrest rate varies from 2,767 in the Mountain states to 5,182 in the Middle Atlantic States of New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.

When black and white sub-populations are examined the drug user arrest rate for blacks is 9,721 compared to 3,361 for whites -- the black rate is still 2.89 times higher than the white rate.  The black rate varies from 4,822 in the Mountain states to 12,885 in the West North Central states (data is not available for blacks in New England).  The white rate varies from 1,888 in the East North Central to 4,618 in the Pacific region.  The ratio of the black arrest rate to the white rate is highest in the West North Central (5.85) and lowest in the Mountain (1.75) and Pacific (1.80) regions.

Disparities in black and white arrest rates can not be explained by differences in drug using populations.  Blacks are not arrested for drug crimes at a higher rate than whites because they are more black drug users than white users.  This characteristic of drug arrests is consistent for marijuana and all drug possession arrests, and is consistent in all regions of the country.

Table. 2  Reconciliation of 1995 Metro Area Marijuana Possession Arrests and Annual Marijuana Use Estimates

 

ALL

BLACK

WHITE

 
 

Arrests

Users

(est.)

Rate

Arrests

Users

(est.)

Rate

Arrests

Users

(est.)

Rate

Ratio B:W

New England:
CT, ME, MA, RI, VT, NH

15,582

853,373

1,825.93

3,175

NA

NA

12,332

781,119

1,578.76

NA

Middle Atlantic:
NJ, NY, PA

66,894

2,340,855

2,857.67

25,250

498,706

5,063.11

41,301

1,844,021

2,239.73

2.26

East North Central:
 IL, IN, MI, OH, WI

31,929

1,559,801

2,046.99

9,801

275,043

3,563.44

21,997

1,268,361

1,734.29

2.05

West North Central:
IA, KS, MN, MO, NE, ND, SD

18,169

745,820

2,436.11

5,375

87,983

6,109.12

12,427

643,835

1,930.15

3.17

South Atlantic:
DE, DC, MD, WV, VA, NC, SC, GA, FL

80,906

2,744,545

2,947.88

29,824

591,795

5,039.58

50,704

2,119,042

2,392.78

2.11

East South Central:
AL, KY, MS, TN

8,490

299,610

2,833.68

2,649

50,273

5,269.19

5,818

245,094

2,373.78

2.22

West South Central:
AR, LA, OK, TX

53,728

1,593,570

3,371.55

14,838

265,934

5,579.58

38,576

1,211,650

3,183.76

1.75

Mountain:
AZ, CO, ID, MT, NV, NM, UT, WY

20,731

943,326

2,197.65

1,986

69,883

2,841.88

18,307

820,309

2,231.72

1.27

Pacific:
AK, CA, OR, WA, HI

43,176

3,545,238

1,217.86

5,537

333,108

1,662.22

36,490

2,983,208

1,223.18

1.36

United States

339,605

14,626,139

2,321.90

98,435

2,172,726

4,530.48

237,952

11,916,640

1,996.80

2.27

Notes, Assumptions, and Sources:

NA: Not Available
ARRESTS: total metro area marijuana possession arrests for the region.
USERS: estimates of total annual marijuana users for metro areas of the region.
RATE: arrest rate per 100,000 estimated marijuana users.
Source for Arrest Data: Uniform Crime Survey
Source for Proportional Estimates of Using Population: National Household Survey.
For the purpose of this reconciliation it is assumed that all individuals arrested for marijuana possession are marijuana users.

Table. 3  Reconciliation of 1995 Metro Area Drug Possession Arrests and Annual Drug Use Estimates

  

ALL

BLACK

WHITE

 
 

Arrests

Users

(est.)

Rate

Arrests

Users

(est.)

Rate

Arrests

Users

(est.)

Rate

Ratio B:W

New England:
CT, ME, MA, RI, VT, NH

33,334

944,186

3,530.45

9,050

NA

NA

24,125

866,000

2,785.80

NA

Middle Atlantic:
NJ, NY, PA

150,972

2,913,350

5,182.08

68,309

639,058

10,689.01

81,945

2,291,231

3,576.46

2.99

East North Central:
 IL, IN, MI, OH, WI

57,014

2,023,160

2,818.07

24,979

318,774

7,835.95

31,855

1,686,858

1,888.42

4.15

West North Central:
IA, KS, MN, MO, NE, ND, SD

31,825

921,652

3,453.04

13,761

106,798

12,885.08

17,578

797,921

2,202.98

5.85

South Atlantic:
DE, DC, MD, WV, VA, NC, SC, GA, FL

158,511

3,350,179

4,731.42

82,179

852,809

9,636.27

75,763

2,450,868

3,091.27

3.12

East South Central:
AL, KY, MS, TN

14,343

424,436

3,379.31

6,223

56,842

10,947.83

8,095

365,321

2,215.86

4.94

West South Central:
AR, LA, OK, TX

93,782

2,148,279

4,365.45

33,680

365,050

9,226.14

59,623

1,662,780

3,585.74

2.57

Mountain:
AZ, CO, ID, MT, NV, NM, UT, WY

38,826

1,403,352

2,766.66

4,600

95,394

4,822.08

33,502

1,216,772

2,753.35

1.75

Pacific:
AK, CA, OR, WA, HI

219,296

4,673,311

4,692.52

36,638

439,738

8,331.77

178,786

3,871,472

4,618.04

1.80

United States

797,903

18,801,903

4,243.74

279,419

2,874,465

9,720.73

511,272

15,209,224

3,361.59

2.89

Notes, Assumptions, and Sources:

NA: Not Available
ARRESTS: total metro area drug possession arrests for the region.
USERS: estimates of total annual drug users for metro areas of the region.
RATE: arrest rate per 100,000 estimated drug users.
Source for Arrest Data: Uniform Crime Survey
Source for Proportional Estimates of Using Population: National Household Survey.
For the purpose of this reconciliation it is assumed that all individuals arrested for drug possession are drug users

Local level comparison of Drug Arrest Rates, 1995

Question #3.  What differences exist at the local level between black and white drug arrest rates?

The full 1995 data set available at www.norml.org/facts/arrestreport /racereport/index/html presents state tables that provide the number of arrests for each racial category, their respective estimated racial populations, and the resulting arrest rates by race – expressed per 100,000.  Data was not available for metropolitan area counties in Illinois, Kansas, Montana or New Hampshire.  Each state table includes summary data for all listed jurisdictions.

Three additional sets of summary tables have been compiled.  1.) National tables are composed of state totals.  2.) Another set of summary tables reports data on core metropolitan counties with populations over 500,000.  This metro set is comprised on most of the major cities in the United States, defined by the county they are located in.  This set includes New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Houston, St. Louis and other major cities.  3.) A third set of tables consists of metro area counties in the data set where the black population is 33 percent or more of the county population.

Finally, in order to provide a descriptive summary of the data set, all data was re-coded into three categories based on a comparison of black and white arrest rates (the black rate is divided by the white rate, if the black rate is greater the resulting ratio will be greater than 1).  Metro counties where the white rate was equal to or higher than the black rate were coded 1.  Counties where the black rate was greater but less than twice the white rate were coded 2.  Counties where the black rate was twice the white rate or greater were coded 3.  The distributions of these descriptive statistics for each of the 11 categories of data follows in Table 4 below.

Table 4.  Distribution of Ratio of Black Arrest Rates to White Arrest Rates

  

Code 1

Code 2

Code 3

Drug Offense

Number of cases

B/W <1

B/W > 1 & B/W < 2

B/W >2

  

(%)

(%)

(%)

All

700

3.29

11.71

85.00

All Sales

601

2.33

6.49

91.18

Cocaine/Opiate Sales

546

.37

1.65

97.99

Marijuana Sales

508

13.98

21.46

64.57

Synthetic Narcotic Sales

166

18.67

12.65

68.67

Other Non-narcotic Sales

258

20.54

15.12

64.34

All Possession

689

4.93

16.11

78.96

Cocaine/Opiate Possession

588

1.70

4.42

93.88

Marijuana Possession

676

9.76

26.63

63.61

Synthetic Narcotic Possession

251

25.50

21.91

52.59

Other Non-narcotic Possession

358

21.23

16.48

62.29

These distributions indicate the probability that a metropolitan county will have the relationship between black and white arrest rates defined by the category.  There is only a 3.29 percent probability that a metro county in this data set has an overall arrest rate for whites that is higher than it is for blacks, and an 11.71 percent probability that the black rate is greater but less than twice as large. Another way to express this is by saying the odds are 85 in 100 that the black arrest rate for all drug offenses is twice or greater the white arrest rate.  In other words, pick any five counties at random and four of them will have black arrest rates that are twice as high as the white rates, or are even higher.


[1] Human Rights Watch, Punishment and Prejudice: Racial Disparities in the War on Drugs, New York, June 2000.

[2] Schiraldi V, Holman B,  Beatty P.  (2000) Poor Prescription: The Costs of Imprisoning Drug Offenders in the United States. Washington, D.C.:  Justice Policy Institute/Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. [http://www.cjcj.org/drug/]

[3] Chilton, Rowland, and Dee Weber. Uniform Crime Reporting Program [United States]: Arrests By Age, Sex, And Race For Police Agencies In Metropolitan Statistical Areas, 1960-1995[Computer file]. ICPSR version. A






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