Criminal Justice

Marijuana arrest figures show 'staggering racial bias,' ACLU report says

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Even as a national consensus seems to be moving toward reducing or eliminating criminal consequences for possessing marijuana intended for personal or medical use, a report (PDF) released Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union shows what the ACLU describes as “staggering racial bias” in the number of blacks arrested for such crimes.

Although blacks and whites use marijuana at the same rate, blacks are nearly four times as likely to be arrested, the ACLU says, relying on figures compiled by the FBI. It calls for an end to the war on marijuana on an ACLU web page that includes links to multiple related reports and articles.

In San Francisco in 2010, blacks accounted for only 6 percent of the population and whites 55 percent. But blacks represented one third of the nearly 300 marijuana-possession arrests in the city that year. The other two-thirds were white, says the San Francisco Chronicle in an article about the ACLU report.

CNN and U.S. News & World Report also have stories.

Observers aren’t sure why the disparity exists in San Francisco, but some suggested that aggressive patrolling of black neighborhoods by police is the reason, the Chronicle reports.

“If police are saturating a neighborhood, it’ll guarantee the arrests look like the neighborhood they’re saturating,” said criminology professor Mona Lynch of the University of California-Irvine.

The police department didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment by the newspaper.

See also “Stop-and-frisk project reaches ‘appalling’ conclusion: No right to misdemeanor trial in Bronx, NY”

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