OAKLAND, CA - The Drug Policy Alliance and the California Conference of the NAACP are jointly releasing a new report on the targeting of African Americans for low-level marijuana possession in California. Highlights of the report include:
In the last twenty years, California made 850,000 arrests for possession of small amounts of marijuana, and half a million arrests in the last ten years. The people arrested were disproportionately African Americans and Latinos, overwhelmingly young people, especially young men.
Yet, U.S. government surveys consistently find that young whites use marijuana at higher rates than young blacks.
From 2006 through 2008, police in 25 of California's major cities arrested blacks at four, five, six, seven and even twelve times the rate of whites.
The City of Los Angeles, with ten percent of California's population, arrested blacks for marijuana possession at seven times the rate of whites.
San Diego, the second largest city in California, arrested blacks for marijuana possession at six times the rate of whites.
In Pasadena, blacks are 11% of the population but 49% of the people arrested for marijuana possession. Pasadena arrested blacks at twelve and a half times the rate of whites.
In Sacramento, the state capitol, blacks are 14% of the city’s population but more than 51% of all the people arrested for possessing marijuana.
These racially-biased marijuana arrests were a system-wide phenomenon, occurring in every county and nearly every police department in California. They were not mainly the result of individual prejudice or racism. In making these arrests, patrol officers were doing what they were assigned to do.
The "scarlet letter" stigma of drug offense records can create barriers to employment and education for anyone, including whites and middle class people.
Changing the crime of marijuana possession from a misdemeanor to an infraction does not change the double standard of enforcement. Police will almost certainly continue to give out a great many summonses, disproportionately to young blacks and Latinos.