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Blacks more than 3 times as likely as whites to be arrested for pot possession

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Blacks are 3.3 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession in Michigan,according to a new report from the American Civil Liberties Union.

The study shows Michigan’s racial discrepancy is close to the national average, despite the fact that blacks and whites use marijuana at roughly equal rates.

ACLU Racial Justice Project attorney Mark Fancher thinks there are two big, related reasons for this: racial profiling, and more aggressive policing—particularly for relatively minor crimes--activity in communities of color.

“And they are the ones who often end up being the individuals who are arrested for these minor offenses,” Fancher says.

This national study has “prompted us at the local level to begin a more detailed examination of what’s happening in these counties, so that we can get a much clearer idea as to the factors that are causing the disparities that we see in many of these areas,” Fancher says.

The study also shows the gap between black and white marijuana arrests got worse between 2001 and 2010. That was true both in Michigan and nationwide.

Here is the ACLU's graph showing the increase in marijuana possession arrest rates in Michigan:

Michigan marijuana possession arrest rates from 2001 to 2010
Credit American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan

Michigan’s Kalamazoo and Kent counties posted the largest jump in racial disparities nationally during that period, with both spiking over 400%.

Here an ACLU graph illustrates the racial disparities in marijuana possession rates by counties in Michigan:

See the racial disparity in marijuana possession arrest rates by county (top graph shows the Michigan counties with largest disparity, bottom graph shows the counties with the largest population)

This report is based on data prior to some municipalities decriminalizing marijuana possession. Grand Rapids has decriminalized marijuana possession, and Kalamazoo has made it a “low enforcement priority.”

“We plan on requesting current data from Kent County and Kalamazoo County officials once it is available to assess whether and how decriminalization efforts have impacted the disproportionate arrest rates,” Fancher says.

The ACLU advocates for state-level decriminalization of marijuana.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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