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NEW ACLU REPORT: Despite Marijuana Legalization Black People Still Almost Four Times More Likely To Get Arrested

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

NEW YORK: The American Civil Liberties Union today released a new report showing that Black people are 3.64 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession despite comparable marijuana usage rates. Additionally, although the total number of people arrested for marijuana possession has decreased in the past decade, law enforcement still made 6.1 million such arrests over that period, and the racial disparities in arrest rates remain in every state.

The reportA Tale of Two Countries: Racially Targeted Arrests in the Era of Marijuana Reformdetails marijuana possession arrests from 2010 to 2018, and updates our unprecedented national report published in 2013, The War on Marijuana in Black and White. The disturbing findings of this new research show that despite several states having reformed marijuana policy over the last decade, far too much has remained unchanged when it comes to racial disparities in arrests.

Key findings include:

  • Law enforcement made more than 6.1 million marijuana-related arrests form 2010-2018. In 2018 alone, there were almost 700,000 marijuana arrests, which accounted for more than 43 percent of all drug arrests. In 2018, law enforcement made more marijuana arrests than for all violent crimes combined.
  • Despite legalization in a number of states, it is not clear that marijuana arrests are trending downward nationally. Arrest rates have actually risen in the past few years, with almost 100,000 more arrests in 2018 than 2015.
  • In every state, and in over 96 percent of the counties examined, Black people were much more likely to be arrested than white people for marijuana possession. Overall, these disparities have not improved. On average, a Black person is 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, even though Black and white people use marijuana at similar rates. In 10 states, Blacks were more than five times more likely to be arrested.
  • In states that legalized marijuana, arrest rates decreased after legalization, however racial disparities still 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 public health crisis presented by COVID-19 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 roadmap 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.

“Many state and local governments across the country continue to aggressively enforce marijuana laws, disproportionately targeting Black communities,” said Ezekiel Edwards, director of the Criminal Law Reform Project at the ACLU and one of the primary authors of the report. “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.”

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. This includes pressing for passage of the MORE Act, which  aims to correct historical injustices of the failed War on Drugs that has terrorized Black communities by decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level, reassessing marijuana convictions, and investment in economically disadvantaged communities.

The full report is available here.

 

ACLU Pennsylvania: Blacks Eight Times More Likely Than Whites To Be Arrested For Marijuana Possession

PENNSYLVANIA: African Americans in Pennsylvania are eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession offenses than are Caucasians, according to an analysis of statewide arrest data by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The ACLU Pennsylvania report reviewed arrest data for all 67 counties from 2010 to 2016. Excluding Philadelphia, which decriminalized cannabis possession offenses in 2014, adult marijuana possession arrests increased 33 percent during this time period – at a cost of $225.3 million to taxpayers. Black adults were 8.2 times more likely than their white counterparts to be arrested for possessing marijuana. In 2010, African Americans in Pennsylvania were 6.5 percent times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession crimes.

Recent analyses from other states, such as New Jersey and Virginia, have similarly identified racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests. Nationwide, African Americans are approximately four times more likely than whites to be arrested for possessing marijuana, despite members of both ethnicities using the substance at similar rates.

“Pennsylvania’s insistence in continuing to fight the war on marijuana, is at the root of the problematic data presented in this report,” the ACLU of Pennsylvania concluded. “Law enforcement has not only continued its business-as-usual arresting policies in enforcement of cannabis prohibition, it has ramped up enforcement as marijuana use has become more accepted throughout the commonwealth and the nation. If laws don’t change, this pattern will likely continue; law enforcement could become even more heavy handed until policymakers are clear that it is time to end this approach. The clearest way to send that message is to end prohibition altogether.”


For more information, contact Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director, at (202) 483-5500. Full text of the report is available from the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

ACLU: Steep Drop In Pot Cases Has Freed Up Resources

WASHINGTON:  Legalization of marijuana in Washington has resulted in far fewer pot arrests, thereby freeing up law-enforcement and court resources, the ACLU says. But Ian Goodhew, of the King County Prosecutor’s Office, said prosecutors handled few misdemeanor pot cases before the law took effect.

A steep drop in charges filed against adults over 21 in Washington state after legalization of marijuana shows the new law is freeing up court and law-enforcement resources to deal with other issues, a primary backer of the law said Wednesday.

The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found that such low-level charges were filed in just 120 cases in 2013, down from 5,531 cases the year before. 

ACLU Of Washington Applauds Supreme Court Decision Upholding Rights Of Medical Marijuana Patients

WASHINGTON:  The ACLU of Washington hailed a decision by the Washington Supreme Court today recognizing the right of medical marijuana patients to raise a medical necessity defense in court.  The ACLU-WA filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case (State v. Kurtz) saying that the state’s Medical Use of Marijuana Act did not supersede the common law medical necessity defense, and that medical marijuana patients should be able to cite both medical necessity and state law in defending themselves. A medical necessity defense is available to someone who has violated a law, but was justified in doing so because the harm being avoided is greater than the harm of violating the law. [Read more…]

On Behalf Of Five-Year-Old With Severe Seizures, ACLU Seeks Ruling In AZ To Protect Access To Medical Marijuana In All Forms

ARIZONA: The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Arizona filed a lawsuit Monday in the Superior Court of Arizona for Maricopa County to protect the parents of five-year-old Zander Welton from criminal prosecution for successfully treating their son’s debilitating seizures with a medical marijuana extract. [Read more…]

On Behalf Of Five-Year-Old With Severe Seizures, ACLU Seeks Ruling In AZ To Protect Access To Medical Marijuana In All Forms

ARIZONA: The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Arizona filed a lawsuit Monday in the Superior Court of Arizona for Maricopa County to protect the parents of five-year-old Zander Welton from criminal prosecution for successfully treating their son’s debilitating seizures with a medical marijuana extract. [Read more…]

Marijuana Legalization: California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom To Head ACLU Panel

CALIFORNIA: Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom will head the American Civil Liberties Union’s new panel studying marijuana legalization in California, with an eye toward drafting a measure for 2016’s presidential-year ballot.

“The prohibition of marijuana has had an enormous human and financial cost in communities across this state,” Newsom said in a statement Thursday. “It is far past time for Californians to take a serious look at smarter approaches to marijuana, and it is imperative that happen before any marijuana ballot initiative gets underway.” [Read more…]

Representatives Nadler, Blumenauer, Lee, Jackson Lee, Jeffries, & Velázquez Reintroduce Comprehensive Marijuana Reform Legislation

The MORE Act decriminalizes marijuana federally, invests in communities disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), along with Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) reintroduced the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, one of the most comprehensive marijuana reform bills ever introduced in the U.S. Congress.

“Since I introduced the MORE Act last Congress, numerous states across the nation, including my home state of New York, have moved to legalize marijuana. Our federal laws must keep up with this pace,” said Chairman Nadler. “I’m proud to reintroduce the MORE Act to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, remove the needless burden of marijuana convictions on so many Americans, and invest in communities that have been disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs. I want to thank my colleagues, Representatives Barbara Lee and Earl Blumenauer, Co-Chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, as well Representatives Sheila Jackson Lee, Hakeem Jeffries, and Nydia Velázquez for their contributions to this legislation, and I look forward to our continued partnership as we work to get this legislation signed into law.”

“Last year, we saw more progress toward cannabis legalization than ever before. This has been driven by unprecedented reforms at the state level. Now, Congress must deal with the problems created by the failed federal policy of prohibition,” said Rep. Blumenauer, founder and co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. “With a strong base of support in the House and in the Senate, the table is set. It’s past time that we stop federal interference with cannabis banking and research, as well as the terrible pattern of selective enforcement that has devastated communities of color. The MORE Act will help address all of these problems and more.”

“During the last year, people across the country have seen how injustice impacts communities of color—from police brutality to the COVID-19 pandemic. The War on Drugs is no exception. We must deliver justice to those most impacted by America’s racist and discriminatory cannabis laws,” said Rep. Lee, co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. “I’m proud to be working alongside Chairman Nadler and my Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chair, Congressman Blumenauer, to reintroduce the MORE Act, which includes my bill—the Marijuana Justice Act—to bring restorative justice to communities of color impacted most. This bill will not only put an end to harmful federal cannabis policies that have ruined countless lives, it will seek to reverse the damage by providing true equity and opportunity for those looking to access this booming industry. We are on our way toward true justice.”

“The MORE Act would not only decriminalize marijuana federally, but also take steps to address the harmful impacts of federal prohibition, particularly on communities of color,” said Rep. Jackson Lee, Chair of the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security.  “We need to pass the MORE Act as an important component of a broader effort to reform our drug laws, which disproportionately harm racial minorities and fuel mass incarceration. That is why I am also working to advance additional legislation to achieve comprehensive reform of our criminal justice system.”

“The failed war on drugs began almost fifty years ago when Richard Nixon declared drug abuse public enemy number one,” said Rep. Jeffries. “Since then, marijuana use has been socially accepted behavior in some neighborhoods and criminal conduct in others. Too often, the dividing line between these neighborhoods has been race. The MORE Act will help right these wrongs and bring to life the principle of liberty and justice for all.”

“For too long, our communities of color have been over-policed by racially biased practices that have led to a disproportionate amount of unjust arrests for low-level marijuana possession,” said Rep. Velázquez. “I am proud to co-sponsor the MORE Act because it will restore justice to our most marginalized communities, and it will boost our economy.”

Following efforts led by states across the nation, the MORE Act decriminalizes marijuana at the federal level. The bill also aims to correct the historical injustices of failed drug policies that have disproportionately impacted communities of color and low-income communities by requiring resentencing and expungement of prior convictions. This will create new opportunities for individuals as they work to advance their careers, education, and overall quality of life. The MORE Act also ensures that all benefits in the law are available to juvenile offenders.

The MORE Act:

  • Decriminalizes marijuana at the federal level by removing the substance from the Controlled Substances Act. This applies retroactively to prior and pending convictions, and enables states to set their own policy.
  • Requires federal courts to expunge prior convictions, allows prior offenders to request expungement, and requires courts, on motion, to conduct re-sentencing hearings for those still under supervision.
  • Authorizes the assessment of a 5% sales tax on marijuana and marijuana products to create an Opportunity Trust Fund, which includes three grant programs:
    • The Community Reinvestment Grant Program: Provides services to the individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs, including job training, re-entry services, legal aid, literacy programs, youth recreation, mentoring, and substance use treatment.
    • The Cannabis Opportunity Grant Program: Provides funds for loans to assist small businesses in the marijuana industry that are owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.
    • The Equitable Licensing Grant Program: Provides funds for programs that minimize barriers to marijuana licensing and employment for the individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs.
  • Opens up Small Business Administration funding for legitimate cannabis-related businesses and service providers.
  • Provides non-discrimination protections for marijuana use or possession, and for prior convictions for a marijuana offense:
    • Prohibits the denial of any federal public benefit (including housing) based on the use or possession of marijuana, or prior conviction for a marijuana offense.
    • Provides that the use or possession of marijuana, or prior conviction for a marijuana offense, will have no adverse impact under the immigration laws.
  • Requires the Bureau of Labor Statistics to collect data on the demographics of the industry to ensure people of color and those who are economically disadvantaged are participating in the industry.

The MORE Act has the support of a broad coalition of civil rights, criminal justice, drug policy, and immigration groups, including: the Drug Policy Alliance, Center for American Progress,  ACLU, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), Human Rights Watch, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, NORML, Sentencing Project, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, UndocuBlack Network, and Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)

In the 116th Congress, Chairman Nadler led the House of Representatives in passing the MORE Act by a bipartisan vote of 228 to 164.

To view the text of the MORE Actclick here.

Representatives Blumenauer and Lee Urge President Biden to Pardon Federal Cannabis Offenses

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA:  Today, U.S. Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Barbara Lee (D-CA), co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, led 35 lawmakers in urging President Joe Biden to use executive clemency to pardon individuals convicted of federal cannabis offenses.

“Until the day that Congress sends you a marijuana reform bill to sign, you have a unique ability to lead on criminal justice reform and provide immediate relief to thousands of Americans,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter sent to the president. “We urge you to grant executive clemency for all non-violent cannabis offenders.”

The lawmakers stressed that discriminatory cannabis policies have perpetuated systemic racism in America for decades, citing a 2020 report issued by the ACLU that found that Black people are 3.64 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite comparable usage rates.

“During your previous tenure at the White House, President Obama understood that decades of harsh and discriminatory federal drug laws unfairly trapped minority individuals and communities in cycles of despair. That is why he used the tools of justice to grant clemency for 1,927 individuals convicted of federal crimes,” the lawmakers continued. “Your Administration has the power to expand on end this legacy and issue a general pardon to all former federal, non-violent cannabis offenders in the U.S and trigger resentencing for all those who remain federally incarcerated on non-violent, cannabis-only offenses for activity now legal under state laws.”

In their letter to President Biden Thursday, the lawmakers also noted that their request is not a partisan issue. Every president since George H.W. Bush has exercised their pardoning power for cannabis offenses.

This push from lawmakers comes after Americans in five more states voted overwhelmingly to liberalize their cannabis policies during the November elections and the U.S. House of Representatives took the historic step of passing the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act in December.

“President Biden’s leadership on issuing pardons to nonviolent federal marijuana offenders would demonstrate a down payment on his campaign promise to prioritize criminal justice reform and similarly inspire similar justice-oriented actions in a non-partisan fashion around the country,” said NORML Political Director Justin Strekal. “Shortly after President Biden’s election, the House of Representatives voted to end the federal prohibition of marijuana. Now in a new legislative session, President Biden should follow their lead and move to immediately provide relief to those who continue to suffer from a criminal record for a nonviolent federal marijuana offense. We are tremendously grateful for the leadership of the Cannabis Caucus, particularly Representatives Barbara Lee and Earl Blumenauer, as they tirelessly lead this ongoing but hopefully soon to be finished fight for marijuana justice nationwide.”

In addition to Blumenauer and Lee, the letter was signed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler and Reps. Nydia Velázquez, Adriano Espaillat, Bonnie Watson Coleman, James McGovern, Jan Schakowsky, Jesús “Chuy” García, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Rashida Tlaib, Danny K. Davis, Alan Lowenthal, Alcee Hastings, David Trone, Mark Pocan, Carolyn Maloney, Peter Welch, Dwight Evans, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Jared Huffman, Pramila Jayapal, Ed Perlmutter, Mondaire Jones, Zoe Lofgren, Ro Khanna, J. Luis Correa, Brenda Lawrence, Charlie Crist, Dean Phillips, Jamaal Bowman, Steven Horsford, Henry “Hank” Johnson, Jake Auchincloss, Raúl Grijalva, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

A PDF copy of the letter is available here.