Black people are 3.5 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession in NJ, study finds

Racial disparities in marijuana arrests in New Jersey have intensified in the last several years, according to a national report released recently by the American Civil Liberties Union

According to New Jersey-specific data in the report, an analysis of 2018 arrest statistics revealed that black people in the state were arrested for marijuana possession at a rate 3.45 times higher than white New Jerseyans, despite similar usage. The arrest rate for blacks in the state increased since the last major examination of racial disparities in marijuana arrests issued by the ACLU in 2017. In 2013, black people in New Jersey were arrested for marijuana possession at about three times the rate of white people. The racial disparity in 15 New Jersey counties was greater than the national average.

The American Civil Liberties Union argues that the increase in disparities and in marijuana arrests overall adds urgency to the call for marijuana legalization in New Jersey. Voters will decide on Nov. 3 whether to amend the state constitution to allow people 21 and older to use marijuana.

“This report confirms what we’ve known to be true: even as the unjust racial disparity in marijuana arrests has become common knowledge, including among law enforcement, the problem has only grown worse. Knowledge of the disparities cannot eradicate them. Only through legalization with a foundation of racial and social justice can we begin to right this wrong,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Amol Sinha in a statement about the report.

“The staggering human rights crisis that COVID-19 has created in our prisons and jails paints a stark portrait of what’s at stake when we arrest people for using a substance that the majority of New Jerseyans believe should be legal. We need New Jersey voters to approve legalization, and we need the legislation that enacts it to put racial and social justice front and center,” Sinha said.

New Jersey ranked 11 in the country for the highest rate of arrests of black people for marijuana possession in 2018, and eighth in the nation in the arrest rate for marijuana possession per 100,000 people, according to the ACLU report “A Tale of Two Countries: Racially Targeted Arrests in the Era of Marijuana Reform.” The report tracks marijuana possession arrests from 2010 to 2018,

According to the report, between 2010 and 2018, New Jersey saw an increase of 45.6 percent in its rate of marijuana possession arrests, the ninth-highest increase in the nation, according to the report. By analyzing the FBI’s uniform crime reporting data, the report concludes that legalizing marijuana is the most effective way to combat the widening racial disparities in arrests.

In addition to advocating for the legalization of marijuana in the state, the ACLU is also arguing that once marijuana is legalized, criminal records should be expunged for people in the state who have been charged with crimes related to marijuana.

“The Garden State’s path forward must include legalizing cannabis in a way that centers racial justice, including expungement of records and creating an industry with opportunities for those hit hardest by the disastrous war on drugs,” said ACLU-NJ Policy Director Sarah Fajardo. “The disturbing facts of this report show that racial justice demands not only that we pass legalization on the ballot, but that we enact it through legislation that makes racial and social justice the top priority.”

The new report showed that nationally, black people are 3.64 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession despite comparable marijuana usage rates. Racial disparities in arrest rates remain in every state, according to the report.

“Many state and local governments across the country continue to aggressively enforce marijuana laws, disproportionately targeting black communities,” said Ezekiel Edwards, director of the Criminal Law Reform Project at the ACLU and one of the primary authors of the report.“Criminalizing people who use marijuana needlessly entangles hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal legal system every year at a tremendous individual and societal cost. As a matter of racial justice and sound public health policy, every state in the country must legalize marijuana with racial equity at the foundation of such reform.”

The full report is available here and the New Jersey data is available here.