The War on Marijuana Has a Latino Data Problem

We know that the War on Marijuana unnecessarily drags hundreds of thousands of people into the criminal justice system every year for having marijuana. And, because of a new ACLU report, we know that it is Blacks who are disproportionately arrested– despite the fact that Blacks and whites use marijuana at comparable rates.

But something—or someone—is missing here: Latinos.

There are 52 million Latinos in the United States, yet we cannot track whether they, too, are targeted for marijuana possession arrests at disproportionate rates. Why? Because the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports (UCR), the federal government's data source for national crime statistics, does not keep data on ethnicity, and thus it is impossible to determine if an arrest is of a Latino or non-Latino.

Without this data, we do not have a full picture of how the selective enforcement of marijuana laws impacts all communities of color.

First off, the racial bias in marijuana arrest rates is likely even more pronounced than what we reported last week. In The War on Marijuana in Black and White, we found that Blacks are over 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession – a staggering racial disparity that exists nationwide. But consider this: most Latino arrests were likely counted as "white" arrests, meaning that the white arrest rate was artificially inflated. If Latinos also have a higher arrest rate than whites (which we suspect they often do), the disparity between Black and white arrest rates would likely have been even larger.

The UCR's failure to track Latino arrests separately also obscures the devastating impact that marijuana arrests can have on Latino communities. In New York, one of only two states for which Latino arrest data is available, Latinos are arrested at nearly four times the rate of whites. Arrests derail lives. Take Marisa Garcia, who was profiled in our report. On her 19th birthday, just before she was going to start her first year at California State Fullerton, she was caught with a tiny amount of marijuana and had to plead guilty to a possession charge. Marisa paid a hefty price: she was rejected for student financial aid because of her conviction, jeopardizing her chance to earn a college degree. The negative consequences of a marijuana conviction cannot be overstated—an arrest can also affect eligibility for public housing, employment opportunities, child custody determinations, and immigration status.

The UCR's failure to track Latino arrests as a separate category also conceals the racially targeted policing that we suspect is at play in Latino communities, just as it is in Black communities. The significant increase in marijuana arrests over the last 20 years can be attributed in part to policing strategies that concentrate on the hyper-enforcement of low-level, quality-of-life offenses predominantly in communities of color. These arrests are often carried out through aggressive stop-and-frisk and racial profiling tactics that run afoul of the Constitution.

Lawmakers are increasingly relying on data to formulate evidence-based policies to better address crime and increase public safety. But when the data fail to capture potential problems that current drug policies and police practices might be having on the Latino community, it is difficult to craft solutions. This is why it is critical that we have a clearer idea of how marijuana laws are being enforced on all people and communities.

The drug war has been anything but a war on drugs—it has been a war on people. And disproportionately, it has been a war on people of color, Latinos included, counted or not.

Click to read the ACLU's new report The War on Marijuana in Black and White: Billions of Dollars Wasted on Racially Biased Arrests.

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The title of the article implies that blacks are being discriminated against, and yet right off the bat it is stated that there is no real evidence to substantiate that Latinos are classified as white.
So what is the purpose of the article? That's right, to generate anger against white people.
Don't you just love how Latino arrests are "suspected" of being classified as white, and "could" inflate the white numbers.
This whole article does nothing but flare up racism. Until you have cold hard facts and real numbers, writing something like this is nothing but racism against white people, which dilutes any argument you once had. And you wonder why people hate black people? Because garbage like this--shame on you. If you want racism to end, stop being one! Black people seem to blame every event in their lives on racism. I got fired...not because I am a disruptive, lazy jerk but because I'm black. So then the message sent out to the rest of the world is that being a disruptive and lazy jerk equals being black. You bring it on yourselves. So here is an idea....we all need to stop blaming and take personal responsibility. If you don't want to get arrested for marijuana...stop smoking it!

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