Though laws regarding marijuana and its usage are becoming more lenient across the United States, with many states choosing to legalize both recreational use and medical use, we are seeing no decrease in the number of arrests for the very thing that is slowly escaping decades of stigma. In fact, not only are arrests still happening for marijuana, individuals of African-American descent are five times more likely to be arrested than white people for using and/or possession of the substance.
Attitudes Are Shifting
Since the 1960s, people have been slowly changing the way they think about marijuana and its legalization for both medical and recreational use. According to studies, 48% of people across all age groups claim to have tried marijuana before. Also, 65% of Millennials support its full legalization and 50% of the Baby Boomer generation now favor it as well, which so far has been the toughest crowd to crack. One might think that with the shift in the collective attitude regarding marijuana legalization, this might mean a laxness in laws and arrests, but that is not the case.
Half of all drug related arrests were made on the grounds of marijuana possession or consumption in the year 2011. Reports indicate that in the year 2012, anywhere between $14 million to $18 million was spent per quarter on the arrests of drug users. If half of those were from cannabis use, a minimum of $7 million per quarter has been spent on locking up cannabis users. In total, enforcing marijuana laws costs around $3.6 billion a year, yet this supposed War on Marijuana has not diminished the use of pot.
Where Race Comes into Play
In Iowa, for every 100,000 people in the state, 1,454 African-Americans were arrested for marijuana while only 174 white Americans were arrested for the same crimes. Also, in Washington, D.C., for every 100,000 residents, 1,489 African-Americans were arrested for marijuana while only 185 white Americans were. The trends go on and on like this, especially in states such as Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Kentucky. Overall, though cannabis use is roughly the same among African and white Americans, African Americans are 3.73 times as likely to be arrested for the possession of it.
The reason for this, says psychology professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, Phillip Atiba Goff, is that police are often driven by a need to increase drug arrests statistics to boost the image of the War on Drugs. Therefore, they concentrate mostly on poorer neighborhoods to meet their quotas. They focus on low-level offenses that are easier to process, rather than investigating serious felonies, which take longer and involve more work. He goes on to say that whenever federal funding agencies want law enforcement to meet these arrest goals instead of public safety goals.
It is no doubt that although marijuana laws are slowly easing and legalization is becoming more prominent, there are still far too many arrests for marijuana. Of those arrests, African-Americans seem to be targeted based on their socioeconomic status and availability. This practice is not only a time waster but a money waster as well, spending precious funds on arresting more and more people, namely African-Americans, for things that are slowly becoming more acceptable, both legally and socially.