Racial bias common in marijuana arrests

Pennsylvania residents may be interested in a study on marijuana arrests released by the New York Times. Evidence shows that the rates of marijuana use among blacks and whites are about the same. However, nationwide, blacks were arrested nearly four times as frequently as whites on marijuana-related charges in 2010. In six states, plus the District of Columbia, that number rises to over five times as many arrests. Pennsylvania is, unfortunately, one of those six states.

In Iowa, blacks were more than eight times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than whites. In D.C., that number is close to eight. The disparity is greatest in the Northeast and Midwest, but exists across the country. The ACLU reports show a racial bias affecting blacks in nearly every county across the United States, no matter what the racial makeup of the area. The data is even more astounding when one considers that marijuana is gaining national acceptance. The drug is legal in two states and 18 additional states allow it for medicinal purposes.

These numbers illustrate the racial inequality built into our legal system. The Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program, which provides funding to police, ties funding to arrests. Police have an incentive to target low-income neighborhoods to get the easier drug arrests in an effort to ensure high numbers, which translates to more money. This focus on low-income neighborhoods disproportionately affects black citizens.

The Equal Protection Clause to the United States Constitution provides that all persons should be treated equally in the eyes of the law, without regard to race. Targeting a person for questioning or investigation solely due to race is not permitted. A criminal defense attorney may be able to assist any person who believes that race may have been a primary factor in an arrest.

Source: The Atlantic Wire, "Racial Bias in Marijuana Arrests Is Worse Than You Thought", Abby Ohlheiser, June 04, 2013

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