Blacks Disproportionately Arrested for Marijuana Possession Offenses

MONTGOMERY, AL — African Americans are arrested in Alabama for violating marijuana laws at rates significantly higher than that of whites, according to a report published by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Authors assessed statewide marijuana arrest data for the years 2012 to 2016. In 2016, police arrested African Americans for low-level marijuana possession offenses at a rate four-times that of Caucasians.

Blacks were arrested for felony marijuana possession at a rate five-times that of whites. In seven law enforcement jurisdictions – including Huntsville, Dothan, and Decatur – African Americans were arrested at a rate ten-times higher than that of white citizens.

This disparity is consistent with that of many other jurisdictions, including New JerseyPennsylvania, and Virginia, where police are far more likely to arrest American Americans than whites for marijuana law violations.

Overall, the report estimated that the state spent $22 million in marijuana-related enforcement costs in 2016.

“The state’s [marijuana] laws are overly harsh and ill-defined, drawing thousands of people each year into the overburdened criminal justice system and creating uneven justice,” the report concludes. “It’s time for Alabama to join a growing national consensus on the safety of marijuana and shed the costly, counterproductive laws that grew out of the failed War on Drugs.”

Full text of the report, “Alabama’s War on Marijuana,” is online. NORML’s fact-sheet, “Racial disparity in marijuana arrests,” appears online.

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