Alex Constantine - January 17, 2014
While Colorado and Washington legalized recreational marijuana use last year, and 19 other states plus the District of Columbia allow legal pot for medical use, there’s one way, all across the country, to use the drug with little if any fear of consequences: Be white.
Across the country, even though blacks and whites use marijuana at more or less the same rate, black people are almost four times more likely to be arrested for it.
According to a report released by New York’s attorney general last week, the number-one reason for arresting people stopped under New York’s controversial “stop and frisk” law was marijuana possession. And 87 percent of the people nabbed for pot possession after a “stop and frisk” were black or Latino.
And if you were white, or for that matter Asian, and you were unlucky enough to get arrested for having some marijuana on you, you were 50 percent more likely to have a court throw out your case than if you were black, the report showed.
New York Times reporter Jim Dwyer wrote a column last week, openly confessing his daring crime of carrying four marijuana cookies and a “a few pinches” of the loose “herb” in his backpack as he walked across the city. He said that he was carrying it for a friend to give to a few people for medical purposes. New York does not allow medical marijuana use.
As he strolled toward his subway stop, Dwyer, a self-described middle-aged white guy, wondered what would happen if he got caught.
“It is your age that would make you most unusual for an arrest,” Harry Levine, a Queens College sociologist who studies pot busts, told Dwyer. “If you were a 56-year-old white woman, you might get to be the first such weed bust ever in New York City — except, possibly, for a mentally ill person.”
According to a recent nationwide study by the American Civil Liberties Union, marijuana offenses account for 52 percent of all drug arrests in the United States. In other words, if marijuana was simply legalized nationwide, the country’s illegal drug problem would be cut in half overnight.
The ACLU found that blacks are arrested 3.73 times more often for marijuana possession than whites, even though people of both races use marijuana as similar rates, and among 18- to 25-year-olds, whites use pot more often. See the graphs below for the stats.