Protests and anger over racial injustice have roiled communities across the nation this summer, including Chattanooga. A report from the American Civil Liberties Union provides evidence of racial disparity in the enforcement of marijuana laws.
In “A Tale of Two Countries: Racially Targeted Arrest in the Era of Marijuana Reform,” the ACLU says even though many states have decriminalized or legalized marijuana, arrests for marijuana possession continue here in Tennessee and elsewhere and that people of color are more likely than not the targets.
Tennessee’s arrest disparity
In 2018, there were 394 people per 100,000 in Tennessee arrested for possession of marijuana. But the arrest rate for black residents of the state was 820 per 100,000, compared to just 255 per 100,000 white residents of Tennessee. That means African-Americans are more than three times as likely to be arrested for pot possession as whites in our state.
It should be noted that Tennessee’s arrest disparity is actually below the national average.
In Georgia, also below the national average, blacks are 2.96 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than whites.
State highs and lows
The ACLU says the states with the greatest disparities are Montana (blacks are 9.62 times more likely to be arrested), Kentucky (9.36) and Illinois (7.51). The states with the least disparity are Colorado (1.54), Alaska (1.56) and Hawaii (1.78).
The ACLU also reports that Pickens County, Georgia, about 80 miles southeast of Chattanooga, has the second-highest rate of racial disparity in marijuana arrests of all U.S. counties: 97. In other words, an African-American resident of the county is nearly 100 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than a white resident.
The organization points out that despite similar marijuana usage rates by black and white people, and despite the relaxing of attitudes and laws regarding weed, across the U.S., blacks are still nearly four times as likely to be arrested as whites for possession.