[JURIST] There is a racial bias in marijuana possession arrest rates press release], with black people 3.7 times more likely to be arrested than white people, according to a report [text, PDF] released Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website]. The report is the first of its kind and concludes that the war on marijuana [JURIST backgrounder] is a failure, with billions of dollars wasted on racially biased arrests. The ACLU found that marijuana possession arrests, and racial disparities in these arrests, increased between 2001-2010, even though black and white pepole use marijuana at a similar rate. The ACLU is hoping to push for a smart and fair reform, and the report offers suggestions on policy and policing:
To repair this country’s wrecked War on Marijuana, the ACLU recommends that marijuana be legalized for persons 21 or older through a system of taxation, licensing, and regulation. Legalization is the smartest and surest way to end targeted enforcement of marijuana laws in communities of color, and, moreover, would eliminate the costs of such enforcement while generating revenue for cash-strapped states. … If legalization is not possible, the ACLU recommends depenalizing marijuana use and possession for persons 21 or older by removing all attendant civil and criminal penalties, or, if depenalization is unobtainable, decriminalizing marijuana use and possession for adults and youth by classifying such activities as civil, not criminal, offenses.
The ACLU also recommends that, in the meantime, law enforcement agencies and district attorney offices should deprioritize enforcement of marijuana possession laws.
Marijuana remains a controversial issue in the US and abroad. Last month the Vermont State Legislature approved a bill that replaces criminal penalties with civil fines [JURIST report] for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and up to five grams of hashish. Also in May the Supreme Court of California ruled [JURIST report] unanimously that local governments may outlaw medical marijuana dispensaries, upholding a ban enacted by the city of Riverside in 2010. In February the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the private sale of medical marijuana is illegal [JURIST report]. Additionally, the top court in Ontario upheld [JURIST report] Canada’s general ban on marijuana. In December an Arizona judge ruled that the state’s medical marijuana law is constitutional [JURIST report] and instructed the state to permit dispensaries to open. In November lawmakers in Uruguay [JURIST report] proposed legislation for state-regulated marijuana. Also that month Washington and Colorado legalized the drug [JURIST report] via state ballot initiatives. Similarly, medical marijuana was legalized in Massachusetts [Harvard Crimson report] for the first time, as over 60 percent of voters approved a similar referendum [Petition 11-11, PDF].