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Ana Maria Rosato media@acluga.org

April 20, 2020

A Tale of Two Countries: Racially Targeted Arrests in the Era of Marijuana Reform Details Millions of Racially Targeted Marijuana Arrests Made Between 2010-2018 

Atlanta – Today the American Civil Liberties Union released a new report that showed Black people are 3 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession in Georgia despite comparable national marijuana usage rates. Although the total number of people arrested for marijuana possession has decreased in the past decade, nationally, law enforcement still made 6.1 million such arrests over that period, and the racial disparities in arrest rates remain in every state.

The report, A Tale of Two Countries: Racially Targeted Arrests in the Era of Marijuana Reform, details marijuana possession arrests from 2010 to 2018 and updates our unprecedented national report published in 2013, The War on Marijuana in Black and White. Key findings include:

  • Across the U.S., law enforcement made more than 6.1 million marijuana-related arrests from 2010 to2018. In Georgia alone, there were over 52,000 marijuana arrests in 2018, the vast majority of which were for possession. In 2018, marijuana possession arrests accounted for 52 percent of all drug arrests in Georgia.
  • Georgia had the 5th highest marijuana possession arrest rate in the nation.
  • While national arrest rates have trended downward, Georgia marijuana possession arrests have actually increased 18.5 percent from 2010 to 2018.
  • Nationally, in 2018, law enforcement made more marijuana arrests than for all violent crimes combined.
  • A Black person in Georgia is 3 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person. In fact, Georgia ranks 37th in the nation for largest racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests. 
  • These racial disparities have not improved between 2010 and 2018.
  • Although nearly half of Georgia counties have racial disparities, Pickens, Walker, Jackson, Habersham, and Catoosa counties have the largest disparities in marijuana arrests ranging from 13.5 to 97.22. 
  • Even though Black and white people use marijuana at similar rates throughout the nation,  a Black person is 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person,  In ten states, Blacks were more than 5 times more likely to be arrested.
  • Overall, in states that legalized marijuana, arrest rates decreased after legalization while racial disparities remained.

A Tale of Two Countries: Racially Targeted Arrests in the Era of Marijuana Reform comes at a time when the criminal legal system is overwhelmed by the COVID-19 public health crisis that demands expedited decarcercal action to safeguard the lives of those incarcerated in and employed by jails and prisons. The reforms recommended in this report provide a road map for reducing marijuana arrests and criminalization as governors, prosecutors, judges, and other stakeholders across the country grapple with the harms presented by the public health crisis and take steps to release people from jails and prisons. 

“Georgia continues to aggressively enforce marijuana laws, dispropor-tionately impacting Black communities,” said Christopher Bruce, political director of the ACLU of Georgia.

“Criminalizing people who use marijuana needlessly entangles hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal legal system every year at a tremendous individual and societal cost. As a matter of racial justice and sound public health policy, every state in the country must legalize marijuana with racial equity at the foundation of such reform,” Ezekiel Edwards, director of the Criminal Law Reform Project at the ACLU and one of the primary authors of the report.

To combat the racial disparities rampant in marijuana-related arrests, the ACLU is calling not only for an end to racialized policing, but also for full legalization of marijuana use and possession and specific measures to ensure legalization efforts are grounded in racial justice. 

As a matter of racial justice and sound public health policy, every state in the nation must legalize marijuana with racial equity at the foundation of such reform.”

The full report is available here.
State level data is available here.