Every 37 seconds, a person is busted for possessing marijuana. Black and white Americans smoke weed at comparable percentages, but black Americans are four times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession.

The American Civil Liberties Union released a report examining the 8.2 million marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010. Researchers found these arrests comprise over half of all drug arrests in the United States and black Americans are targeted, arrested and charged at disproportionate rates.

Weed Data

Weed Data1

Ezekial Edwards, director of the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project and lead author of the reporter told the New York Times, “We found that in virtually every county in the country, police have wasted taxpayer money enforcing marijuana laws in a racially biased manner.”

The ACLU offers several reasons for the racial disparity in arrests. One possible reason is the Edward Byrne Justice Assistantship Grant Program, which “incentivizes increasing drug arrest numbers by tying the statistics to funding. Law enforcement officials then concentrate on lower income neighborhoods to keep those numbers up, finding the lowest hanging fruit of crimes to enforce” according to the New York Times.

Phillip Atiba Goff, a psychology professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, told the New York Times incentive-programs like Edward Byrne encourage numerical goals rather than investigation into detrimental crimes.

“Whenever federal funding agencies encourage law enforcement to meet numerical arrest goals instead of public safety goals, it will likely promote stereotype-based policing and we can expect these sorts of racial gaps,” Goff said.

To lessen prison costs, several states – including Colorado and Washington State – have legalized marijuana or approved it for medicinal use. A Pew Research Center poll found more than 50 percent of Americans support the legalizing of marijuana.

Colorlines has compiled an infographic exploring how the War on Drug impacts impoverished communities of color.

The War on Drugs

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  • I guess we can add this to the “Water is wet” announcement.
    The history of anti-drug laws in the US is laced with racial discrimination…the face of weed in the early part of the 20th century was Black and Mexican and that prompted many states and later the federal government to enact laws against marijuana use.

    They are out to get us and too many of us make it too easy for them.

    • RE: They are out to get us and too many of us make it too easy for them.

      I completely agree! We appear to be less discreet…

    • dbsm

      “I guess we can add this to the “Water is wet” announcement.”


  • MLI

    Cops are targeting blacks? Blacks and whites do the same things at the same rates, but blacks are more likely to be arrested. Color me shocked. I had no idea this sort of thing happened.

    This is what institutionalized racism looks like, it is blacks getting arrested more despite partaking in this activity at the same rate. It is when Black students and Latino students are more likely to get suspended from school (which leads to a slew of other problems based on that stigmatization). It is when equally qualified minority borrowers are steered towards sub prime mortgages at higher rates than whites.

    I know that the mainstream media has this notion of a post racial America since 2008 because we have a black president, and that racism is dead, but racism is alive and well. It just had plastic surgery so it could keep up with the times. Racism doesn’t look like it did in the past but racism is not dead. POST RACIAL MY ASS!!!

  • Meme23

    Just like everyone else, I am not surprised. The problem that I have with this is that there are several incentive programs that make it lucrative for people to prey on the Black community. There are incentive programs that encourage incarceration and arrest and whenever there is money to be made from programs that encourage people to strip Black people of their rights and freedom, you had better believe that any and everyone will be standing in line to take advantage of it. We need to lobby for a law against any program that incentivizes arrest or incarceration. It is a disgrace that our elective officials think that it is acceptable to allow this type of predatory behavior to exist.

  • Starla

    All police stations have a quota to fill. So yes, they are targeting whomever the feel will help them to fill their quota quickly. It is easier to arrest a Black person, especially a poor Black person for petty crimes. Poor people usually use stimulants to forget their sorrows, so the chances of finding a poor person with a lil weed is not that hard in urban centers. There is money to be made in crime from the policing end, it’s not just the “protect and serve” bs that it is made out to be.

  • This is why I only smoke in white neighborhoods with white people