Law & Disorder

Blowing smoke and much more

by A.J. Wagner

About a year ago the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) published a study titled “The War on Marijuana in Black and White.” What they found:

Finding No. 1: Marijuana possession arrests increased between 2001 and 2010.

From 2001 to 2010, across the United States, annual drug arrests had increased by 100,000, an 18 percent increase. If we go back to 1990, there was a 193 percent increase with 500,000 more arrests being made in 2010.

By 2010, nearly half of all drug arrests in America were for marijuana possession. Possession accounts for 88 percent of the marijuana arrests across the nation, but in Texas and New York, where the largest numbers of marijuana arrests occur, possession accounts for 97 percent. In 62 percent of these arrests, the arrested individual was under 24 years of age.

Finding No. 2: Racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests exist throughout the country.

Nationwide, 192 of every 100,000 white persons were arrested for marijuana possession. Blacks were arrested at the rate of 716 per 100,000. The more affluent the county, the greater the disparity between black and white arrest rates. In Iowa, blacks are 8.34 times more likely to be arrested for possession; while in Nebraska, 1,699 of every 100,000 blacks faced arrest for marijuana possession. Ohio is 11th in rank among the states for the total number of possession arrests, at just over 19,000 in 2010.

Finding No. 3: Racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests increased between 2001 and 2010.

Most of these disparities increased from 2001 to 2010. Thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia saw an increase in racial disparity of these arrests by as much as 384 percent (Alaska). In our great state of Ohio, a black person was almost twice as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, compared to a white person in 2001. By 2010, a black individual was more than four times as likely to be arrested for possession.

Finding No. 4: Blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates.

In 2010, roughly 14 percent of blacks and 12 percent of whites reported using marijuana over the past year. In 2001, those figures were 9 percent and 10 percent, respectively. Interestingly, among young people between the ages of 18 and 25, those accounting for about 46 percent of the arrests, in 2010 more whites than blacks reported using marijuana over the past year.

All of these arrests have not proven to be a deterrent. In 1990, marijuana use was at a low and so were the numbers of arrests. As arrests have increased, so has marijuana usage. Although there was no major increase in usage between 1980 and 2000, since 2000 there has been an upward trend, especially among African-Americans, where the prior year reported usage has gone from 9 to 14 percent.

Finding No. 5: States are wasting money on marijuana possession arrests.

This is fiscally the bottom line. In 2010, the ACLU study estimates $3.613 billion was spent on enforcement of marijuana laws. That’s an estimated $1,747,157,206 on policing for the arrests, $1,371,200,815 for judicial expenses and $495,611,826 on incarceration.

Two weeks ago, I wrote how our system of justice is doing more harm than good in some cases. Since then, we have seen the flare-ups after the shooting of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Mo. and John Crawford at the Walmart in Beavercreek, Ohio. We then watched as our black brothers and sisters carried out mostly peaceful demonstrations. Many whites don’t get it. They do not understand the frustration experienced by the African American community at the hands of law enforcement.

They hear, and understand, the argument, “Just don’t use marijuana and you don’t have to worry.” But they ask in return, “How is that justice? How can it be a Constitution that demands equal treatment under the law can allow such disparities in treatment?”

These disparities have an effect.

For the rest of their lives, many of those arrested will now be required, whenever they apply for a job, to answer they were arrested and convicted of a crime. As it is, a white person with a record is about 5 percent more likely to get the job than a black person without a record. But once that box is checked on the job application, the chances of getting a job diminish greatly. The chances of getting promoted, if one does get the job, are equally unlikely. A black person with a record faces almost certain lifelong poverty.

Poverty brings about despair and another generation of poverty to follow. Children born into poverty lack an expectation they can achieve. Youngsters raised in poverty lack a sense their lives have value. Adults in poverty have few reasons to play by the rules they feel entrapped them in the first place.

Is it really worth $3.6 billion each year to create such incredible amounts of poverty and despair?

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A.J. Wagner is an attorney with the law firm of Flanagan, Lieberman, Hoffman and Swaim at 15 W. Fourth Street in Dayton. A.J. and his firm would be glad to help you with all of your legal needs. You can reach A.J. at (937) 223-5200 or at

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