African Americans were nearly four times as likely as Whites to be arrested on charges of marijuana possession in 2010, even though Black and White pot use is roughly equal, according to an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) study.
And in Baltimore, the study said, Blacks are 5.6 times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana. The study also compared the number of marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010, which shows a 69 percent increase in arrests of Blacks for possession, despite an only 13 percent increase in the Black population during the time period.
“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 in a statement. “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.”
Maryland ranked fourth among the states for marijuana possession arrests after Washington, D.C., New York and Nebraska. Baltimore ranked fifth among cities for marijuana possession arrests per 100,000 residents.
During the last Maryland General Assembly legislative session, Sen. Bobby Zirkin introduced bill SB297 pushing for the decriminalization less than 10 grams of marijuana, which experts say equals one or two joints. The bill would have made possession a civil offense giving offenders a citation and a fine of no more than $100. The bill however did not advance before the end of the session.
Sonia Kumar, attorney for the ACLU of Maryland, said the legislation would not have made significant impact unless there is a change law enforcement procedures in the state.
“The race disparity in marijuana arrests requires more than just passing legislation,” said Kumar. “It’s how it’s regulated in the eyes of the law.”
Kumar said policies such as racial profiling and stop and frisk lead to the disparity in the number of arrests for Blacks in comparison to their white counterparts.
“One of the theories is the increased use of stop and frisk tactics. Blacks are being stopped without any suspicion of doing anything wrong,” said Kumar. “These tactics are being used in Black neighborhoods and on Blacks in White neighborhoods.”
Kumar said she recommends legislation requiring law enforcement agents to record all police-citizen stops and encounters and whether those encounters resulted in the discovery of illegal items.
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