African Americans are arrested for violating marijuana possession laws at nearly four times the rates of whites, yet both ethnicities consume marijuana at roughly the same rates.
Specifically, a 2020 analysis by the American Civil Liberties Union, concluded, “Black people are 3.64 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession, notwithstanding comparable usage rates.” Authors reported, “In every single state, Black people were more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, and in some states, Black people were up to six, eight, or almost ten times more likely to be arrested. In 31 states, racial disparities were actually larger in 2018 than they were in 2010.”
These findings were similar to the ACLU’s 2013 analysis, which had previously concluded, “[O]n average, a Black person is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, even though Blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates. Such racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests exist in all regions of the country, in counties large and small, urban and rural, wealthy and poor, and with large and small Black populations. Indeed, in over 96% of counties with more than 30,000 people in which at least 2% of the residents are Black, Blacks are arrested at higher rates than whites for marijuana possession.”
According to a 2020 analysis by The Washington Post, between 2015 and 2019, there were 3,631 marijuana arrests in the District of Columbia. Eighty-nine percent of those arrested were Black, even as they make up only 45 percent of the city’s population.
A 2020 analysis of low-level marijuana arrests in Canada in 2015, prior to nationwide legalization, similarly found that Blacks were over-represented in arrests. “We conducted an analysis of cannabis arrest data obtained from police services in five Canadian cities (Vancouver, Calgary, Regina, Ottawa, Halifax) to determine whether racial differences exist in rates of arrest for minor cannabis possession in Canada. With just one exception, we find that both Black and Indigenous people are over-represented amongst those arrested for cannabis possession across the five cities examined.”
A 2020 analysis of marijuana-related citations and arrests in Albany, New York for the time period July 9, 2019 to July 9, 2020 reported, “97 percent of the time, those arrested or ticketed were Black. Only four white people were charged with marijuana offenses during the time period despite nationwide evidence that shows Black and white people use marijuana at roughly the same rate.”
A 2018 analysis of marijuana possession arrest data in Alabama for the years 2012-2016 reported, “black people were approximately four times as likely as white people to be arrested for marijuana possession (both misdemeanors and felonies) in 2016 – and five times as likely to be arrested for felony possession. These racial disparities exist[ed] despite robust evidence that white and black people use marijuana at roughly the same rate.”
A 2018 analysis of marijuana possession arrest data in Louisiana for the year 2016 reported “large racial disparities in arrest rates across the state that would be difficult to explain by different rates of crime commission alone. For example, in 2016, black people were 2.9 times as likely as white people to be arrested for marijuana possession in Louisiana, despite evidence that black people and white people use marijuana at similar rates. The disparities are much greater in some areas: A black person was six times as likely as a white person to be arrested by the Baton Rouge Police Department (BRPD) for marijuana possession in 2016.”
A 2017 analysis of low-level marijuana arrest data for the city of Buffalo for the years 2012 to 2016 reported that 86 percent of those arrested were people of color, but that African Americans and Hispanics constituted less than 50 percent of the city’s population. In Erie county, African Americans comprised 71 percent of low level marijuana arrests, but only 13.5 percent of the population.
A 2016 review of New York City marijuana arrest data by the Police Reform Organizing Project reported that approximately 85 percent of those arrested for lowest level marijuana possession violations were black or Latino.
Prior to the enactment of decriminalization, an analysis of marijuana possession arrest data in Chicago by reported that the ratio of black to white arrests for cannabis possession violations is 15 to 1.
Prior to the enactment of a Washington, DC voter-initiated law depenalizing minor marijuana possession crimes, African Americans were eight times as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana-related crimes.