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End the Numbers Game: Police Should Not Be Rewarded for Making Marijuana Arrests

Ezekiel Edwards,
Former Special Counsel,
ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project
Vanita Gupta,
Center for Justice
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June 6, 2013

Every 37 seconds, another person is needlessly ensnared in the criminal justice system just for having marijuana. These arrests are not happening on every block. Despite the fact that Blacks and whites use marijuana at comparable rates, Blacks are almost four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession.

This wasteful, racially biased numbers game is fueled by the fact that when the federal government doles out hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to law enforcement each year, they require reporting on arrest numbers, including marijuana arrests. This creates a powerful incentive for police to aggressively go after people with small amounts of marijuana – it's an easy way to get a lot of arrests.

But quantity does not mean quality. These needless and racially biased arrests take focus, resources, and money away from keeping our communities safe: in 2010, police arrested more people for marijuana possession than for all violent crimes combined.

In a recent speech, President Obama's drug czar aptly said, "We can't arrest our way out of the drug problem." Yet the funding structure of the War on Drugs incentivizes police to take exactly this approach, wreaking havoc on the people who are targeted.

If the Obama administration is serious about not trying to arrest our way out of this problem, there are steps they can take to ensure that federal dollars are not incentivizing these racially biased, wasteful arrests.

Urge Attorney General Eric Holder: Don't reward police for making racially biased, wasteful marijuana arrests. Sign the petition to stop including marijuana possession arrests in the performance metrics for state and local police receiving federal money.

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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