New report shows that in North Carolina, African Americans are 3.4 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, despite equal use rates
State spent almost $55 million enforcing marijuana possession laws in 2010; ACLU-NC says North Carolina needs to change failed laws
RALEIGH – According to a new report  by the American Civil Liberties Union, North Carolina spent nearly $55 million enforcing marijuana possession laws in 2010, while statewide African Americans were arrested for marijuana possession at 3.4 times the rate of whites, despite comparable marijuana usage rates. The report, Marijuana in Black and White: Billions of Dollars Wasted on Racially Biased Arrests, released today, is the first ever to examine state and county marijuana arrest rates nationally by race.
Statewide, North Carolina law enforcement made 20,983 marijuana arrests in 2010 – the 10th most in the nation – and marijuana possession arrests accounted for 53.6 percent of all drug arrests in North Carolina in 2010. Fifty percent of the people arrested for marijuana possession in North Carolina were African American, even though statewide African Americans comprise only 22 percent of the population – a 28 point difference.
“The war on marijuana has disproportionately been a war on people of color,” said Ezekiel Edwards, Director of the Criminal Law Reform Project at the ACLU and one of the primary authors of the report. “State and local governments have aggressively enforced marijuana laws selectively against black people and communities, needlessly ensnaring hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal justice system at tremendous human and financial cost. The aggressive policing of marijuana is time-consuming, costly, racially biased, and doesn’t work.”
In North Carolina, the counties with the largest racial disparities between marijuana arrests for African Americans and whites were Hoke (9.6 times), Stanly (6.7 times), Surry (6.7 times), Nash (6.7 times), and Wayne (6.5 times). Counties with the highest populations showed large disparities as well, including Mecklenburg (4.6 times), Forsyth (4.6 times), Cumberland (3.4 times), Guilford (3.2 times), and Wake (1.9 times). Hoke County had the fourth highest increase in racial disparities of marijuana arrests in the nation between 2001 and 2010 (906.4 percent), while McDowell County had the 11th highest (464.6%).
“As more states across the country consider new approaches to marijuana policy, it’s time for North Carolinians to start having our own conversation about how to best change failed marijuana laws,” said Mike Meno, ACLU-NC Communications Director. “In North Carolina and across the nation, the aggressive enforcement of marijuana laws has wasted millions of tax dollars, disproportionately targeted people of color, damaged community relations with police, and harmed the lives of countless individuals arrested for possessing even tiny amounts of marijuana, all while having virtually no impact on marijuana’s use or availability.”
Last year, voters in Colorado and Washington became the first in the nation to approve laws that would tax and regulate the sale and use of marijuana for adults. The ACLU is calling for the states to legalize marijuana by licensing and regulating marijuana production, distribution, and possession for persons 21 or older, taxing marijuana sales, and removing state law criminal and civil penalties for such activities, which it says would eliminate the unfair racially- and community-targeted selective enforcement of marijuana laws. In addition, at a time when states are facing budget shortfalls, taxing and regulating would allow them to save millions of dollars currently spent on enforcement while raising millions more in revenue, money that can be invested in public schools and community and public health programs, including drug treatment.
In the report, the organization also urges lawmakers and law enforcement to reform policing practices, including ending racial profiling as well as unconstitutional stops, frisks, and searches, and also to reform state and federal funding streams that incentivize police to make low-level drug arrests.
Read the report online at http://www.aclu.org/marijuana