Houman Fakhimi

Marijuana Arrests Overwhelmingly Made Along Racial Lines: ACLU

California has, in many ways, been on the forefront of ending the War on Drugs, being that we were the first state to decriminalize the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes nearly two decades ago.

However, our Riverside criminal defense attorneys recognize that we still have a far way to go. Marijuana is still illegal for recreational purposes, and even dispensaries and colllectives that attempt to legitimately offer services to bona fide patients are persecuted by federal authorities.

Now, a recent 187-page report released by the American Civil Liberties Union reveals extensive racial bias in marijuana-related arrests and proscutions across the country.

Researchers found that on a national scale, African Americans were four times more likely than their white counterparts to be arrested for marijuana crimes, even though both races use the drug equally.

Those findings were based on arrest data that stretched from 2001 to 2010.

It's worth noting that California decriminalized possession of marijuana in the amount of less than 28.5 grams as of Jan. 1, 2011. A person who is arrested for possession of marijuana in California no longer faces a criminal record, but could receive a fine of up to $100, plus additional fees that could total nearly $500.

Possession of larger amounts for personal use is considered a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $500 fine. Concentrated cannabis or hashish possession can be considered either a felony or misdemeanor.

While possession of anything less than one ounce is not supposed to be met with arrest or imprisonment, police sometimes get around this by charging even minor offenders with felony intent to sell, under California Health and Safety Code 11359.

Racial disparity for marijuana arrests fluctuated on a state-by-state basis, with blacks 2.5 times as likely to be arrested in some states and as much as 8 times more likely in others.

Researchers found that in California, blacks were 2.2 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than their white counterparts. While there were 171 white people arrested per 100,000 population, there were 374 black people arrested per population of 100,000.

Counties that had the largest disparities were San Francisco (4.3 times), Marin (4.1 times), Lake (3.8 times), Sacramento (3.7 times) and Kern (3.4 times). In Orange County, the racial disparity was 1.8 times.

Those California counties with the highest racial disparities were primarily located in the northern portion of the state.

the ACLU reports that in 2010, the year before the state passed marijuana possession decriminalization, the state spent more than $490 million enforcing marijuana possesssion laws.

Marijuana possession accounted for about 23 percent of all drug arrests in California as of 2010. In other areas of the country, it sometimes counts for as much as 90 percent of all marijuana arrests and more than half of all drug arrests.

In California, blacks make up about 6.7 percent of the total population, yet account for more than 16 percent of marijuana arrests.

What's especially troubling is that the racial disparities are getting worse. While the marijuana arrest rate for whites nationwide remained constant throughout the study time frame, the rate for blacks rose from 537 cases per 100,0000 population in 2001 to 716 cases per 100,000 population in 2010.

While this particular study only looked at marijuana offenses, we're kidding ourselves if we believe this drug is the only one for which these kinds of disparities exist.

Contact Houman Fakhimi trial attorney at (714) 705-6701 as soon as possible if you are arrested in Riverside.

Additional Resources

The War on Marijuana in Black and White, June 2013, American Civil Liberties Union.