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racial disparity

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director November 15, 2017

    Cannabis PenaltiesAfrican Americans in the city of Buffalo (population 257,000) are disproportionately arrested for low-level marijuana possession offenses, according to an analysis of arrest data by the advocacy group Partnership for the Public Good.

    Researchers evaluated marijuana arrest data for Erie County, New York for the years 2012 to 2016. Countywide, blacks comprised 71 percent of all low-level marijuana offenders, despite comprising only 13.5 percent of the population. In the city of Buffalo, 86 percent of those arrested for minor marijuana possession violations were either African American (80 percent) or Hispanic (six percent). Blacks and Hispanic represent fewer than 50 percent of the city’s population.

    “[T]he disparities in the number of marijuana possession arrests cannot be explained by a higher use among black or Hispanic people,” authors concluded. “Legalizing marijuana would reduce low-level drug arrests by ten percent, and help reduce racial disparities in overall arrest numbers.”

    Recent analyses from other states, such as New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, have similarly identified racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests. Nationwide, African Americans are approximately four times more likely than whites to be arrested for possessing marijuana, despite members of both ethnicities using the substance at similar rates.

    Full text of the report, “Advancing Racial Equity and Public Health: Smarter Marijuana Laws in Western New York,” appears online here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director May 16, 2017

    Cannabis PenaltiesAfrican Americans in Virginia are arrested for violating marijuana possession laws at more than three times the rates of whites and this disparity is rising, according to an analysis of statewide arrest data by Virginia Commonwealth University’s Capital News Service.

    Researchers reviewed 160,000 state and local arrest records from the years 2010 through 2016. They found that blacks were 2.9 times as likely as whites to be arrested for possessing marijuana in 2010, but 3.2 times as likely to be arrested by 2016.

    In some counties and towns, such as in Hanover County and in Arlington, Virginia, the black arrest rate was six to eight times that of whites.

    The findings are similar to those of a 2015 report, which determined that the number of African Americans arrested in Virginia for marijuana possession offenses increased 106 percent between the years 2003 and 2014. That study concluded that blacks account for nearly half of all marijuana possession arrests, but comprise only 20 percent of the state population.

    A separate analysis of Maryland arrest data determined that African Americans accounted for 58 percent of all marijuana possession arrested despite comprising only 30 percent of the state’s population.

    A 2016 analysis of California arrest figures concluded that police arrested blacks for marijuana offenses at three and half times the rate of whites. A prior statewide assessment reported that police in 25 of California’s major cities arrested blacks for marijuana possession violations at rates four to twelve times that of caucasians. Similar disparities have been repeatedly reported in other major cities, including New York and Chicago.

    A 2013 American Civil Liberties Union study found that nationwide blacks are approximately four times as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana possession, even though both ethnicities consume the substance at approximately similar rates.

  • by Allen St. Pierre, Former NORML Executive Director August 9, 2013

    In an interview earlier this week with National Public Radio, US Attorney General Eric Holder publicly acknowledged the obvious:

    -There are too many citizens in prison on low level drug charges

    -The mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines employed by the federal government should be reformed

    -The inherent outcome of the federal criminal justice system affirms serious racial disparities exist

    yes-we-cannabis

    Holder: “The war on drugs is now 30, 40 years old. There have been a lot of unintended consequences. There’s been a decimation of certain communities, in particular communities of color.”

    “[W]e can certainly change our enforcement priorities, and so we have some control in that way,” Holder said. “How we deploy our agents, what we tell our prosecutors to charge, but I think this would be best done if the executive branch and the legislative branch work together to look at this whole issue and come up with changes that are acceptable to both.”

    Listen to interview here.

    The Drug Policy Alliance has multiple suggestions on how President Obama and Attorney General Holder ‘can go big’ in their last three years in office to substantively reform the failed war on some drugs.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director September 27, 2011

    [Editor’s note: This post is excerpted from this week’s forthcoming NORML weekly media advisory. To have NORML’s media alerts and legislative advisories delivered straight to your in-box, sign up here. To watch NORML’s weekly video summary of the week’s top stories, click here.]

    New York City police officers are to cease making misdemeanor marijuana arrests in cases where the contraband was not displayed in public view, according to an internal order issued late last week by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and reported by the New York Post.

    Although simple marijuana possession is a noncriminal violation in New York State, if the marijuana is ‘open to public view’ police can charge a suspect with a criminal misdemeanor.

    In 2010, city police made 50,383 lowest level marijuana possession arrests [NY State Penal Law 221.10] involving cases where marijuana was either used or possessed in public. The total was the second highest in the city’s history and was an increase of over 5,000 percent from 1990, when police reported fewer than 1,000 low-level pot arrests. Over 85 percent of those charged typically are either African American or Latino.

    However, an investigation in April by New York City public radio station WNYC questioned the legality of many of those arrested. It concluded that police routinely conduct warrantless ‘stop-and-frisk’ searches of civilians, find marijuana hidden on their persons, and then falsely charge them with possessing pot ‘open to public view.’

    The Commissioner’s new order stipulates that marijuana discovered during a police search is a violation punishable by a ticket only. The memo states that if the contraband ‘was disclosed to public view at an officer’s direction’ then it is not sufficient evidence that a suspect is in violation of state Penal Law 221.10.

    Queens College sociologist Harry Levine, who has documented the racial disparity in arrest rates in New York City and elsewhere, stated: “[I’m] pleased that the NYPD agrees that these marijuana arrests have not been proper and will begin to curtail them. We are always encouraged when the police decide to obey the law.” He added: “New York City’s routine policing practices, especially for drug possession, require major reform. This is only the first step.”

    Bipartisan legislation that seeks to reduce penalties for those in violation of Penal Law 221.10 to a non-criminal violation remains pending in the state assembly.

    An online analysis of marijuana arrest in New York and other major cities nationwide is now available online by the Marijuana Arrests Research Project at: http://www.marijuana-arrests.com.

  • by Allen St. Pierre, Former NORML Executive Director August 4, 2011

    Mayor Michael Bloomberg, by most all accounts, is one of the most fascinating political characters of the last decade. A self-made billionaire who, with a clear love for his fellow human beings and with great civic pride, chose to effectively become New York City’s mayor for the last nine years—spending more personal wealth than most any other political candidate in US history, for a mayor’s office no less—as the ultimate expression of his ability and want to positively effect as many people as possible, in a city (and region) that he clearly loves, during his tenure in a position where he can get things done.

    Along the way to becoming one of America’s wealthiest individuals, Mr. Bloomberg has donated a remarkable amount of money to many worthy causes, notably in the field to improve public health in America and the world, most especially at his alma mater, one of the best universities in the world, Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.

    With good health and continued good fortune, who knows what further impact Mr. Bloomberg will choose to make in national politics in his lifetime? He possess all the requisite skills and resources to become president if that’s what he chooses.

    Today we find out that Mayor Bloomberg is once again demonstrating why he is one of the most interesting and charitable politicians in the modern era in reading today’s New York Times about his most recent donation of $30 million to help black and Latino youth get better integrated into the region’s economy, develop valuable skill sets and to find productive employment.

    The Times reports that Mayor Bloomberg’s initial grant will be matched by New York City-based hedge fund manager and philanthropist George Soros.

    Here is the ironic point to this blog post: If Mayor Bloomberg is genuinely serious about creating more favorable employment environs for black and Latino youth in New York City, he should converse with Mr. Soros, who, has donated more money than anyone on the face of the earth in favor of drug policy reform—notably for cannabis law reforms—who, I’m sure would insist that the good mayor stop arresting black and Latino youth in New York City en mass.

    Regrettably, embarrassingly, for such an enlightened and civic-minded man, Mayor Bloomberg has largely maintained the shameful and starkly racially disparate cannabis law enforcement policies that he inherited from former Mayor (and drug prosecutor) Rudolf Giuliani. Mayor Giuliani exploded the annual cannabis arrest rate in the five boroughs of New York City from an average of about 2,000 arrests to an eye-popping 60,000 arrests per year.

    Bloomberg’s administration has, on average, maintained an annual arrest rate for simple cannabis possession cases over 45,000, with a disturbing ninety percent of arrests happening to….black and Latino youth.

    Mayor Bloomberg, please, listen to Mr. Soros and stop arresting and negatively effecting future employment opportunities for an entire generation of minorities in New York City who got caught doing the same thing you did in your more youthful years.

    And look how well you turned out after using cannabis?

    Why deny over 45,000 other New Yorkers (and tourists) annually the opportunity to pursue their life’s goals and dreams just because, like you, absent an arrest for your cannabis use, they chose to use a little ganja to relax? Unfortunately for them and New York taxpayers, they’re getting permanently scarred by your feckless and expensive Cannabis Prohibition law enforcement practices in Gotham.

    Mayor Bloomberg, your generous and thoughtful donation of $30 million—and that of Mr. Soros’—will be working at cross purposes if you continue to give the green light to the NYPD to arrest 45,000 cannabis consumers annually into the criminal justice system, the vast majority of whom are the very population you’re concerned with.

    Mr. Bloomberg, if you’re worried about saving face or “what does the NAACP think about all of this?”, don’t be. Because, hundreds of thousands of cannabis consumers and tourists in New York City will very much appreciate the change in policy and the NAACP now supports changing America’s antiquated Cannabis Prohibition laws.

    Mayor Bloomberg, please magnify the positive impact of your philanthropy and concerns for civil society by ending the practice of ‘collaring’ cannabis consumers in New York City, and, instead, return to the cost effective and less detrimental practice to cannabis consumers (notably for minorities) by simply issuing a civil fine in the form of a written ticket for cannabis possession cases rather than employ valuable police time and resources unnecessarily arresting so many black and Latino cannabis consumers.

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