Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Illinois tops the list for racial disparity in marijuana busts

From the Chicago Tribune:
The American Civil Liberties Union said Tuesday that Illinois has one of the worst racial disparities in the nation when it comes to marijuana possession arrests, with blacks nearly eight times more likely than whites to be arrested despite using pot at roughly the same rate. The report, titled "The War on Marijuana in Black and White," found that blacks nationwide are nearly four times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession. One of the report's authors said that discrepancy illustrates the unfairness of the nation's drug policy. "People who are targeted are disproportionately people of color," said Ezekiel Edwards, director of the ACLU's criminal law reform project. "To give white people in certain places a free ticket while blacks are getting saddled with criminal records and thrown in jail seems patently unfair." The ACLU also found that Cook County piled up far more marijuana possession arrests in 2010 than any other county in America. Cook County tallied more than 33,000 pot arrests that year, with blacks, who account for 25 percent of the county's population, making up nearly 73 percent of those busted....Researchers have long shown that blacks and whites smoke pot at roughly equivalent rates. The most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that 14 percent of blacks used marijuana in the past year .versus 12 percent of whites. Asked about the ACLU's report, the Chicago Police Department responded with this statement: "Chicago Police enforce our laws for the sole purpose of protecting public safety, regardless of anyone's race or creed." Edwards said his research indicated that racial disparities in pot arrests exist almost everywhere in the nation, regardless of demographics. In Illinois, 63 of 102 counties have a disparity rate higher than the national average, in which blacks are 3.7 times more likely than whites to be busted for pot. Overall, Illinois had the country's fourth-largest disparity, with blacks 7.6 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana. Iowa was first, with blacks there 8.3 times more likely than whites to be arrested. Edwards said the discrepancies have grown worse over the past decade, even as some states adopt more liberal marijuana laws and public sentiment toward the drug softens. (A Pew Research Center poll taken in March found that for the first time, a majority of Americans support legalizing pot.) "Old habits die hard, and a lot of police departments are patrolling and operating the way they used to," Edwards said. "You're going to see disparities as long as we fight that war and fight it selectively." Though Edwards said most marijuana possession arrests do not result in prison time, Kathleen Kane-Willis of the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy said they still can bring severe consequences. "You can be denied housing," she said. "You can be denied employment. And if you're in school, if it were a felony conviction, you would be denied financial aid."

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