Gross Racial Disparities In California Pot Arrests (Participation)

SAN FRANCISCO — Attorney General Eric Holder ruffled some feathers with his recent promise to “vigorously enforce” marijuana prohibition in California even if the state ballot initiative seeking to legalize marijuana passes on November 2.

He might have some trouble with fair implementation: Studies show minorities are much more likely to be arrested for pot possession in California than whites, even though minorities are less likely to smoke pot.

A recent report by the Drug Policy Alliance found that from 2006 to 2008 “police in 25 of California’s major cities arrested blacks at four, five, six, seven, and even 12 times the rate of whites.” The City of Los Angeles, for instance, “arrested blacks for marijuana possession at seven times the rate of whites,” even though young white people consistently report higher marijuana use than blacks or Hispanics, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

In the last 20 years, California authorities made 850,000 arrests for possession of small amounts of marijuana. There’s no reason to believe the disparity in arrests is confined to the state.

Indeed in New York City, under the leadership of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, pot arrests have skyrocketed — and roughly nine out of ten people charged with violating the law are black or Latino.

On Wednesday the DPA released a second report highlighting the disparities between white and Latino arrests in the Golden state. Findings showed that from 2006 to 2008 “major cities in California arrested and prosecuted Latinos for marijuana possession at double to nearly triple the rate of whites.” In San Jose, the third largest city in the state, police arrested Latinos at more than twice the rate of whites. Glendale, California — where Latinos make up only 17 percent of the population of almost 200,000, but 30 percent of those arrested for marijuana possession — had the highest Latino arrest rate of the 33 cities surveyed.

The report’s authors cautioned that the findings should not be attributed to racist cops.

“The disparities documented in the report are the result of routine police practices, not the result of racists cops here and there,” Stephen Gutwillig, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, told reporters on a conference call Wednesday. “This is a system-wide issue.”

The report’s authors, led by Queens College sociologist Harry Levine, have noted that marijuana possession arrests can have serious consequences, creating permanent “drug arrest” records that can be easily found on the Internet by employers, landlords, schools, credit agencies, licensing boards and banks.

Several weeks ago, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a law, effective in January, which downgrades possession of an ounce or less of marijuana from a misdemeanor to an infraction. But Gutwillig said the new legislation will not eliminate the problem.

“The recent downgrading by the governor which lowers the penalty from a misdemeanor to an infraction is absolutely a step in the right direction,” he said. “But targeting of Latinos will continue.”

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3 thoughts on “Gross Racial Disparities In California Pot Arrests (Participation)

  1. The current issue regarding bias opinions towards those who posses marijuana have been common for quite some time, but with new laws in order, these issues should not be as common. The police often are not out to get a certain race but instead they do as they are told and follow what the overall social society sees as the “norm”. At the end of this article it is stated that even though laws will change and consequences are not as severe as they used to be, the discrimination will not change. I find this interesting because it seems that even though many people are aware of the issue regarding racial opinions in the drug industry, they do nothing to change it. I think this is the case because many do not see this as an issue that needs a lot of attention. Regardless of the facts and statistics given, it still is thought that those of minority are more likely to commit these types of crime, and are more of a danger to society than whites. It will take a long time for this norm to change just because it has been so prevalent for many years. This is not just an issue in todays society, and without large actions being taken, this issue will only grow just as it has in the previous years, regardless of the change in laws.

  2. The current issue regarding marijuana is how people are being biased as having this possession of this drug and of selling and using of it. The bias of this drug is that many black and Latino’s are the ones who are selling and using and/or has possession of this drug. In reality the majority of the people that are using and selling this drug are white but if does not matter because like in the article they are still going to continue to target of Latino’s because they think it is still the right direction where they are going to get the people who are selling and have possession of the drug marijuana. Plus now a day’s marijuana is becoming more of an infraction instead of a misdemeanor the consequences of possession of marijuana is becoming less severe but still the racial discrimination is still going to be around because it is not going to change but like in other states marijuana is becoming legalized but is it going to be a big problem still. Some say that marijuana is a gateways drug to much more harmful drugs. So if the facts and statistics are not going to matter is it going to matter when the drug changes. Are they still going to target the minorities because they think that since we are poor that we have no other way to make money? It still amazes me how even though we are minorities we are not the ones who are selling the drugs but it is a bias that was made about it. Let’s hope that changes in time.

  3. Whites are statistically more likely to smoke marijuana than any other race, yet other races such as Latinos are, in some areas, four times as likely to be arrested. My first reaction to hearing this information was how were there such a large amount of police officers engaging in racist profiling. But the more you look into it, it’s not the police officers, it’s the system. Police policies reinforce racial profiling and there is no hope for this to change any time soon. Police are expected to meet quotas and think stereotyping Latinos is a way to achieve it. Because racial profiling does not receive the attention it should police feel as they can get away with treating people with disrespect and can get away it. While if whites were treated similarity there would be an uproar. So the wrong stereotype continues that Latinos and blacks are more likely to be in possession of marijuana and be in the drug business. Not only does it create a stereotype but it can really harm their lives. A violation with the law goes on record where jobs, schools and the general public have access to it. Now it is harder to find jobs which pushes them deeper in poverty. These demeanors need to be changed into infractions to give those a chance to change their situations and not have this one mistake determine the rest of their life. Especially when this is an issue that in some states is legalized. We can only hope that changes will be made to better this situation but the near future doesn’t seem very bright.

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