Racist prohibition persecution

Allen St. Pierre was excited and giddy when I visited the NORML headquarters in Washington, DC last week, and it wasn’t just because a beautiful female intern was working nearby.
No, St. Pierre’s delight was in statistics, “the cold, hard facts” as he put it, from a just-released study by former NORML executive director Dr. John Gettman.

Gettman studied US crime statistics, analyzing oodles of complex data to determine if the drug war has produced racial disparities in arrests, sentencing and incarceration rates.

Noting that even the government itself admits that the war on marijuana had racist origins (an attempt during the 1930’s to marginalize jazz musicians and Hispanics using marijuana prohibition as a primary tool), Gettman’s numbers indicate that the drug war perpetuates racial inequities.

“Racial disparities in drug arrests represent a serious threat to the integrity of the criminal justice system,” said Gettman. “The differences in arrest rates between Blacks and Whites are significant, stark and unambiguous. In the United States, Black drug users face a far greater chance of encountering the criminal justice system than white drug users. Sadly, in this area, justice is not blind.”

Among Gettman’s findings:

* Blacks are four times more likely to be arrested for all drug offenses than whites;

* Blacks are 2.5 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than are whites nationwide;

* Taking into account the drug use rates of blacks and whites, the black arrest rate for marijuana possession is 2.27 times higher than the white arrest rate;

* In at least eighty percent of America’s metropolitan counties, blacks are more than twice as likely to be arrested as whites are.

* Black arrest rates are generally lower in jurisdictions with large black populations, but regardless of the racial composition level the black arrest rate for any drug offense it is typically twice or greater than the white arrest rate for the same offense in the same jurisdiction;

* The disparity between black and white arrest rates for drug offenses increases with the severity of the offense;

* In metropolitan counties, blacks are arrested for marijuana sales at a rate 3.6 times more than whites. In counties where the black population is at least one-third of the entire of the population, blacks are 4.1 times more likely than whites to get arrested for marijuana sales.

* States with the highest black to white arrest rate disparity for marijuana possession are Alaska, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Iowa.

* States with the lowest black to white arrest rate for marijuana possession are Vermont, Hawaii, Maine, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania.

*American Indians are also victims of racial disparities in drug arrests.

“NORML doesn’t want to see anybody prosecuted for marijuana,” St. Pierre said, “but we think that all Americans, whether they support marijuana laws or not, should oppose any system that perpetuates inequality and racism. Dr. Gettman is to be commended for gathering and analyzing this data, which proves without doubt that the drug war is unjust.”

The complete report, which features many statistical illustrations, is available via the NORML website at www.norml.org