The black/white marijuana arrest gap

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Harry-Gene, posted this comment on 1/3/2014 at 2:32 AM CST to the Washington Post Wonkblog article about Marijuana arrests and racism and this chart.

Several people in these comments report the common mis-perception or guess that most people get arrested while smoking. This is not correct.

Most people arrested for marijuana possession were not smoking it and typically had a small amount hidden in their clothing, vehicle or personal effects. The police found the marijuana by stopping and searching them (often illegally), or by tricking them into revealing it.

Police departments concentrate their patrols only in certain neighborhoods, usually ones designated as “high crime.” These are mainly places where low-income whites and people of color live. In these neighborhoods, police stop and search the most vehicles and individuals while looking for “contraband” of any type to make an arrest. The most common item that people in any neighborhood possess that will get them arrested—and the most common item that police find—is a small amount of marijuana.

Police officers patrolling in middle- and upper-middle-class neighborhoods typically do not search the vehicles and pockets of white people, so most well-off whites enjoy a de facto legalization of marijuana possession. Free from the intense surveillance and frequent searches that occur in other neighborhoods, they have little reason to fear a humiliating arrest and incarceration. This produces patterns, as in Chicago, where whites constitute 45 percent of the population but only 5 percent of those arrested for possession.

The above three paragraphs come from a recent article in The Nation that discusses the racist marijuana arrests nationally and the ACLU report which documents them. Links to the Nation article, the ACLU report and much more information about the racist marijuana possession arrests are here:

Although whites and blacks of all ages use marijuana at about the same rate, young whites (18-25) use marijuana at higher rates than young black or Latinos.