New Maryland ACLU Report Details Growing Marijuana Arrest Rates, Even As Support for Decriminalization Grows

Affiliate: ACLU of Maryland
November 7, 2013 12:00 am

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Today, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland released a new report, The Maryland War on Marijuana in Black and White, which provides a detailed county-by-county analysis of marijuana possession arrest data in Maryland. Using official Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and U.S. Census data, the report shows that over the last ten years, the number of people arrested for marijuana possession in Maryland has increased dramatically - by 34 percent - and that, despite comparable rates of marijuana use across race, communities of color are policed differently for marijuana possession. In every county in Maryland, Blacks are disproportionately targeted for enforcement of marijuana laws.

Key statewide findings from the report include:

  • Maryland now has one of the highest rates of arrests for marijuana possession in the nation.
  • Between 2001 and 2010, arrests for marijuana possession increased dramatically in Maryland – by 34 percent.
  • Even though Blacks and Whites use marijuana at comparable rates, police arrest Blacks for marijuana possession at higher rates than Whites in every county in Maryland.
  • Racial disparities in marijuana arrests worsened dramatically in Maryland from 2001 to 2010. During that time, the number of Black arrests increased by 5,614 - but the White arrests increased by only 371.
  • Maryland spent approximately $106 million enforcing marijuana possession laws in 2010 alone.

"Now is the time to end this racially disparate approach of stopping, searching, arresting and jailing people in Maryland for possession of marijuana because it not only wastes limited resources, but it hurts communities and erodes trust with law enforcement," said Sara Love, Public Policy Director of the ACLU of Maryland. "With this Maryland report, the ACLU of Maryland will be strongly advocating for reform in the 2014 legislative session."

The Maryland report is drawn from a national ACLU report, Marijuana in Black and White: Billions of Dollars Wasted on Racially Biased Arrests, released in June. That report showed that, nationally, African Americans were nearly three times as likely as whites to be arrested for simple marijuana possession in 2010, even though research consistently shows comparable rates of use across race.

In Maryland, police arrest one out of every 250 people for marijuana possession; the state is now fourth highest in the country in marijuana possession arrests per capita and seventh highest in the country in terms of the raw number of marijuana possession arrests - outranking far more populous states like Pennsylvania and Ohio, which have more than twice the population of Maryland. In Maryland, marijuana possession arrests now make up 90% of all marijuana-related arrests and 50% of all drug arrests. And while African-Americans comprise only 30 percent of the state's population, they are 58 percent of arrests for marijuana possession. Even more shockingly, race disparities in arrests worsened between 2001 and 2010 – during that time period, Black arrests increased by 69%, compared to four percent for Whites.

"This report proves something we police have known for a long time: The drug war is inherently racist in its execution," said Neill Franklin, Executive Director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). "Inequities in arrest rates affect the life opportunities of Blacks and create distrust between police and the communities they serve. And as a Maryland police officer for 34 years, I can tell you that race-based policing of marijuana users does nothing to make communities safer."

Maryland voters are ready for marijuana reform. A poll commissioned by the ACLU and the Marijuana Policy Project in October showed that 53 percent of Maryland voters support making marijuana legal for adults and regulating it like alcohol. Only 38 percent said they were opposed. The poll also found that more than two-thirds (68 percent) support removing criminal penalties for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and replacing them with a civil offense punishable by a fine of up to $100 with no possibility of jail time. Only 26 percent said they were opposed. Under current Maryland law, it is a criminal offense for a person to possess a small amount of marijuana, and he or she can be sentenced to up to 90 days in jail and fined up to $500.

The ACLU of Maryland supports legislation to legally tax and regulate marijuana. Last session, the group also supported legislation that would have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. While the bill made historic progress by passing the State Senate, the bill stalled in the House Judiciary Committee.

Arrests for possession of even the smallest amounts of marijuana have often resulted in greater difficulty obtaining a job, losing student financial aid, deportations, losing custody of children, or ineligibility for public housing. Just as importantly, for every person who is found with marijuana, many more who have done nothing wrong are subjected to humiliating stops and searches by police – disproportionately people of color.

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