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New Study Reveals Blacks Arrested For Marijuana At More Than Twice The Rate For Whites

November 2, 2000 - Washington, DC, USA

The entire study can be viewed at the NORML website.

Blacks are arrested for marijuana possession at a two and a half times greater rate than whites, according to a new study published by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
Based on 1995 Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Report (UCR) data from 700 metropolitan counties, Jon Gettman, Ph.D., a public policy analyst and former NORML director, calculated the ratio of black arrest rates to white arrest rates from 1,076,816 out of a total 1,476,199 drug arrests reported by the UCR. This is the most recent data set to include UCR data, U.S. Census data and the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse. The full report is available at www.norml.org.

Some important findings of this report:
* The black arrest rate for all drug offenses is four times the arrest rate for whites.
*When controlling for drug use levels, the black arrest rates for drug offenses increases with the severity of the offense.
* When controlling for drug use levels, the black arrest rate for all drug possession offenses is 2.89 times higher than the white arrest rate.
*Black arrest rate for marijuana is more than twice the white arrest rate in over 4/5 of metropolitan counties.
* Black arrest rates are generally lower in jurisdictions with large black populations, but regardless of the racial composition level the black arrest rate for any drug offense it is typically twice or greater than the white arrest rate for the same offense in the same jurisdiction.
*The disparity between black and white arrest rates for drug offenses increases with the severity of the offense.
*In metro area counties blacks are arrested for marijuana sales at a rate 3.6 times more than whites. In counties where the black population is at least 1/3 of the entire of the population, blacks are 4.1 times more likely than whites to get arrested for marijuana sales.

Marijuana Possession Arrests
Among the metro counties with at least a population of 500,000 with available data the greatest disparities between black and white arrest rates are found within 90 miles from each other in central and western New York state in Onondaga County, NY (Syracuse) at 10.61 blacks for every one white arrest and Monroe County, NY (Rochester) at 5.63. Rounding out the top 10 greatest disparities in black and white marijuana possession arrest rates were Cuyahoga County, OH (Cleveland) at 5.56, Hennepin County, MN (Minneapolis) at 5.31, Fulton County, GA (Atlanta) at 5.12, Hartford County, CT (Hartford) at 4.56, Allegheny County, PA (Pittsburgh) at 4.43, Washington, DC at 4.05, Hamilton County, OH (Cincinnati) at 3.79 and Jackson County, MO (Kansas City) at 3.74.
Fifty-six counties had over 100 marijuana arrests, a black population of over 1,000 and the marijuana possession arrest rate for blacks of at least five times that for whites. Lake County, OH, which includes part of Cleveland as well as Lorain and Elyria had a ratio of 19.77 black arrests to white. Rounding out the top 10 were, St. Joseph County, IN (South Bend) at 11.27, Minnehaha County, SD (Sioux Falls) at 10.71, Onondaga County (Syracuse) at 10.61, Albany County, NY (Albany, Schenectady and Troy) at 10.56, St. Louis County, MN (Duluth and Superior) at 10.34, Bay County, MN (Saginaw, Bay City and Midland) at 8.54, Douglas County, NE (Omaha) at 8.39, Cecil County, MD (Wilmington and Newark) at 8.16 and Schenectady County, NY (Albany, Schenectady and Troy) at 8.0.

Marijuana Sales Arrests
Among counties with a minimum of 100 marijuana arrests and a black population of at least 1,000 blacks are between 6.5 and 35 times more likely to get arrested for marijuana distribution than whites. Broome County, NY (Binghamton), had the highest ratio of black to white arrests at 34.70. In all, 12 counties had ratios over nine. They were: Broward County, FL (Ft. Lauderdale) at 20.35, Erie County, PA (Erie) at 14.08, Plymouth County, MA (Boston) at 12.33, Cobb County, GA (Atlanta) at 12.24, Mercer County, NJ (Trenton) at 12.18, Washington, DC at 12.11, Orange County, FL (Orlando) at 9.83, New York County, NY (New York) at 9.69, Lancaster County, PA (Lancaster) at 9.51, Monroe County, NY (Rochester) at 9.20 and Kent County, MI (Grand Rapids, Muskegon and Holland) at 9.18.

State Rankings
The states with highest black white arrest rate for marijuana possession are:
1. Nebraska (2,167) 2. S. Dakota (1,541) 3. Wyoming (962.03) 4. Iowa (836.84) 5. Colorado (755.98)

The states with lowest black arrest rate for marijuana possession are:
1. Vermont (0.00) 2. Hawaii (51.36) 3. Maine 85.74) 4. New Mexico (139.57) 5. Pennsylvania (148.92)

"Racial disparities in drug arrests represent a serious threat to the integrity of the criminal justice system that should concern all Americans," said the report's author Jon Gettman, Ph.D. "The differences in arrest rates between blacks and whites are significant, stark and unambiguous. In the United States, black drug users face a far greater chance of encountering the criminal justice system than white drug users. Sadly, in this area, justice is not blind."

US Marijuana Arrests, Part Two:
Racial Differences in Drug Arrests

By Jon Gettman

Section One:  Introduction

Blacks are arrested more frequently for drug offenses than whites. This disparity is consistent over time and holds up regardless of the region of the country, the nature of the drug offense considered and levels of drug use by each racial group. Arrest rates in 700 metropolitan area counties provide the basic data of the report and the ratio of arrest rates for blacks to those for whites is its basic unit of analysis for differences in arrest rates.

Black arrest rates for marijuana offenses in 1995 were at least twice the arrest rate for whites in 64 percent of the metropolitan counties reviewed in this report, and greater than white arrest rates in 88 percent of them.  In 1995, arrest rates for all drug offenses for blacks were twice that of whites in 85 percent of the 700 metropolitan counties reviewed, and greater than white rates in 97 percent of them.

Important Questions Raised

Uniform Crime Report (UCR) arrest data maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are used in this report to answer these questions:

  • How do black and white drug arrest rates compare over time?
  • How does accounting for the number of drug users affect the comparison between drug arrest rates for blacks and whites?
  • What differences exist at the local level between black and white drug arrest rates?

The magnitude of the racial differences in marijuana and other drug arrest rates are a matter of concern for all Americans.  The differences in drug arrest rates, marijuana arrest rates in particular, between blacks and whites presents a compelling question for the public and their political representatives.  Are these disparities in black and white arrest rates acceptable outcomes for our law enforcement policies and practices?

The following data shows whether racial differences exist in the enforcement of the nation's marijuana and drug laws.  After reviewing national data from 1991 to 1995 the report focuses on regional similarities in drug arrest rates, which will be summarized in several tables.  One appendix (available only on the Internet: www.norml.org) also includes over 500 tables of racial data on arrest rates for the sales and possession of the following categories of drug offenses: marijuana, all illegal drugs, opiates/cocaine, synthetic narcotic drugs, and other non-narcotic drugs.  Data for 700 metropolitan area counties are reported on a national, state, and county level.  Additional tables are provided to compare most of the nation's largest cities as well as metropolitan area counties where the black population represents one-third or more of the population.

The most important findings of this report are:

  • The black arrest rate for all drug offenses is four times the arrest rate for whites;
  • The black arrest rate for marijuana offenses is 2.5 times the arrest rate for whites;
  • When controlling for drug use levels the black arrest rate for marijuana possession is 2.27 times higher than the white arrest rate;
  • When controlling for drug use levels the black arrest rate for all drug possession offenses is 2.89 times higher than the white arrest rate;
  • The disparity between black and white arrests rates for marijuana increased between 1991, when the black arrest rate was 2.13 times higher, and 1995 when the black arrest rate was 2.56 higher nationally than for white;
  • Black arrest rates for marijuana are over twice the white arrest rate in over 2/3 of metropolitan area counties;
  • Black arrest rates for other drug offenses are over twice the white arrest rate in over 4/5 of metropolitan area counties;
  • Black arrest rates are generally lower in jurisdictions with large black populations, but regardless of the level of the black arrest rate for any drug offense it is typically twice or greater than the white rate for the same crime in the same jurisdiction;
  • The disparity between black and white arrest rates for drug offenses increases with the severity of the offense;

Prior studies by Human Rights Watch[1] and the Justice Policy Institute[2] have used prison admission data for several years to establish and characterize racial disparities related to drug offenses.   These studies left a few questions unanswered because of the limitations of the available data on prison admissions.  This study instead relies on arrest data.

Questions of racial bias affect the integrity of investigations, arrests, and prosecutorial discretion.  These junctures in the system influence the costs of drug offenses and to what extent the individual costs are borne by white, blacks, and/or other minorities.  Prison admissions and incarceration rates increase when arrests increase.  However, do racial disparities exist for all drug offenses or just for the more serious sales-related offenses that result in prison terms?  Arrest data can show whether or not arrest rates for blacks for drug offenses are significantly higher than for whites regardless of the type of drug, the type of offense, the location, and regional drug use levels.  This study demonstrates that the racial disparities previously characterized by Human Rights Watch and the Justice Policy Institute are demonstrative of contemporary drug law enforcement and are pervasive throughout the country.

Section two of the report will describe the data and present the primary results that provide the foundation of this report.  The following section will review local data on marijuana arrests from 1995, followed by a review of local data on other drug arrests for the same year. The report concludes with a commentary on the significance of these findings introduced above.

Section Two:  Primary Results

Data

This report rests on the presentation of comprehensive data and a minimum of statistical analysis.  The report primarily relies on arrest rates for different racial groups and ratios of comparison between them.  In terms of comparisons of local areas the distribution of these ratios will be used to summarize the data, answering three questions:  what percentage of metropolitan counties is the black arrest rate less than the white rate, what percentage is it greater but less than twice the white rate, and in what percentage is the black rate more than twice the white rate?

Uniform Crime Report data from 1991 to 1995 from about 700 metropolitan area counties are used to compare drug arrest data over time, and 1995 data are used for other comparisons.[3]  The 1991 to 1995 data demonstrates that the 1995 data is representative of general trends in arrest rates for this period.  This is the most recent data available that provides information on arrests by race on a comprehensive basis, despite being limited to metropolitan area police agencies.  The 1991 data, for example, consists of reports from 7,984 police departments that can be summarized at the agency, county, metropolitan area, or state level.  This report focuses primarily on county-level summaries of local arrest rates.  While data is not available for every metro area county, all of the available data for 1995 are reported.  The 1995 metropolitan area data set, for example,  used for this report includes 1,076,816 of the nation-wide total 1,476,199 drug arrests reported by the UCR data, or 73 percent of the nation-wide total for arrests in 1995.

The metropolitan area UCR data set provides the number of arrests for each of four racial categories: black, white, American Indian, and Asian-Pacific.  The coverage population of the reporting agencies is also provided.  A county may contain several law enforcement agencies but the available data may not include all of them.  Consequently the coverage population reported may not agree with the full population of the county.  The purpose of reporting the coverage population is that it can be used with total arrests to calculate the arrest rate per 100,000.

The UCR does not report racial population figures.  Racial population levels have been estimated by applying US Census data[4] on the racial composition of each county to the coverage population reported by the UCR.  If a county is estimated to have an American Indian population of two percent then for use in this report the American Indian population will be estimated at 2 percent of the coverage population.  The resulting racial population estimates have been used to calculate the arrest rates that provide the basis for this report.

UCR Data are available for numerous offenses including 11 categories of drug offenses.  In addition to data on all drug arrests this report provides separate data on sales and possession offenses involving four categories of drugs. The UCR provides data on all drug arrests as well as data of arrests for drug possession and sales. Four categories are used to provide more specific data on arrests for different types of controlled substances: 1) Opium and Cocaine and their derivatives (such as Crack, Morphine, Heroin); 2) Marijuana; 3) Synthetic Narcotics - Manufactured Narcotics which can cause true drug addiction (such as Demerol, Methadone); 4) Other Dangerous Non-Narcotic Drugs (such as Barbiturates, Benzedrine, and Methamphetamine).

All arrest rates are expressed per 100,000 population except rates involving drug users, in which the rates are expressed per 100,000 users.

Racial Disparities in Drug Arrests, 1991 - 1995

Question #1: How do black and white drug arrest rates compare over time?

In 1995, there were a total of 588,964 marijuana arrests and 887,136 non-marijuana drug arrests in the entire country (including both metro and non-metro area arrests).  Non-marijuana drug arrests have been relatively stable over the last five years, and the 1998 level of 876,214 is nearly 10 percent less than the 1989 level of 962,722. From 1989 to 1998, all drug arrests increased 12.66 percent. However, because non-marijuana arrests fell 9.87 percent in this period, it was the 41.57 percent increase in marijuana arrests that accounts for the increase in total drug arrests during this period.   See Figure 1.


 

Drug arrests increased dramatically from 1991 to 1995 and the effects of this increase on arrests rates per 100,000 for blacks and whites can be seen in Figures 2 through 6 below.


 

Figure 2. shows the magnitude of the differences in black and white arrest rates for all drug offenses and its consistency over this five year period.  The overall arrest rate for whites during this period nearly doubled yet this did not alter the fundamental imbalance between the two arrest rates.

The most significant change apparent in the 1991 - 1995 data concerns arrests for marijuana offenses.  As noted above this is the greatest growth area for drug arrests over the last 10 years.  The increases in arrests create increases in arrest rates, and these increases can be seen in the increase in the black rate for marijuana sales in 1994 and 1995 (See  Figure 3).


 

The greatest contribution to growth in the drug arrest rate, though, is in marijuana possession arrest rates.  Here (in Figure  4) increases are evident in both black and white arrest rates, however the increase in the black rate accelerates faster than the white rate over the five-year period.


 

Figures 5 and 6 below show the differences in arrest rates per 100,000 population for opiate/cocaine offenses, sales and possession respectively.  The same general trends are apparent -- stark differences consistent over time with little change in the disparity between black and white arrest rates.

Table 1.  Disparities in Black and White Drug Arrest Rates, 1991 - 1995

   

Rate Per 100,000

Ratio black: white

Offense

Year

All

black

white

Am.

Indian

As.

Pacific

               

All Drug Arrests

1991

411.58

1,389.06

273.26

140.49

52.35

5.08

 

1992

471.75

1,498.85

327.72

164.86

59.09

4.57

 

1993

496.78

1,539.31

353.10

180.56

57.90

4.36

 

1994

564.62

1,690.07

408.18

217.60

67.22

4.14

 

1995

596.19

1,755.32

439.94

240.12

72.69

3.99

               

Marijuana Possession

1991

89.79

172.37

81.03

49.16

13.64

2.13

 

1992

108.87

199.05

99.99

61.32

14.31

1.99

 

1993

129.30

256.12

116.30

74.39

14.85

2.20

 

1994

161.03

345.04

140.62

91.52

17.91

2.45

 

1995

193.23

425.70

166.04

103.63

23.44

2.56

               

Marijuana Sales

1991

29.02

66.73

24.59

10.44

2.18

2.71

 

1992

32.50

67.57

28.64

11.89

2.85

2.36

 

1993

32.56

78.38

27.01

14.01

3.05

2.90

 

1994

35.51

92.92

28.18

15.27

3.33

3.30

 

1995

36.92

101.17

28.39

18.00

3.99

3.56

               

Opiate/Cocaine Poss.

1991

159.16

603.74

94.37

37.71

19.78

6.40

 

1992

183.60

677.93

111.07

47.06

21.50

6.10

 

1993

182.81

671.57

112.86

47.80

20.29

5.95

 

1994

197.85

706.44

125.09

56.62

23.11

5.65

 

1995

192.60

657.44

124.99

54.01

21.44

5.26

               

Opiate/Cocaine Sales

1991

110.81

517.15

47.37

14.39

11.97

10.92

 

1992

128.41

537.78

65.12

13.24

10.62

8.26

 

1993

126.56

538.87

63.02

16.48

8.36

8.55

 

1994

126.91

532.08

64.15

13.85

8.48

8.29

 

1995

116.87

488.21

58.52

15.52

7.99

8.34

Table 1 (above) presents the data used in Figures 2-6 and the actual ratios of black to white arrest rates.  The disparity between black and white arrest rates for opiate/cocaine offenses decreased during this time span, contributing to a decrease in the overall disparity in arrest rates for drug offenses.  However the disparity between racial arrest rates increased with marijuana offenses.  For marijuana sales offenses the ratio of black to white rates increased from 2.73 to 3.59 while for marijuana possession offenses the ratio increased from 2.13 to 2.59.  In both cases the surge in racial disparities occurred in 1994 and 1995.

Drug Arrests and Drug Use, 1995

Question #2:  How do black and white drug arrest rates compare to arrest rates for other offenses?

The arrest rates for blacks are greater than those for white for almost any crime included in Uniform Crime Report.   (See Appendix 2.) The only crime the arrest rate for whites is greater than for blacks is driving under the influence.  Such disparities are not unique to drug offenses, particularly those involving opiates and cocaine which exhibit some of the highest disparities between black and white arrest rates.

Explaining the differences between black and white arrest rates for all offenses is beyond the scope of this report.  In this context it is important to note that such disparities exist for just about all criminal offenses.  This provides one explanation for why the black arrest rate for drug offenses is higher than that for whites – the criminal justice system routinely arrests blacks at a higher rate than whites, regardless of the offense.  It is a characteristic of the criminal justice system in the United States.  Regardless of explanations, racial disparities are systematic and have become a consequence of existing law enforcement practices.

What, then, makes drug offenses different from other offenses in terms of evaluating the characteristics of the criminal justice system?  Two attributes of drug offenses distinguish them for the purpose of this discussion – discretion and reliable estimates of offenders.  Police exercise a great deal of discretion in their professional decision making.  Respect for this discretion is one of the most important professional values in the field of law enforcement.  Like other so-called "victimless crimes," drug possession offenses provide some of the greatest latitude for police discretion.  In many instances confiscation and a warning are justified alternatives to arrest, especially when marijuana is involved.   Drug offenses are also different from other offenses because there are reliable estimates of the known number of offenders and their race. With most crimes there is an underlying assumption that the number and distribution of arrests is determined by those who commit the crimes, that is, that if more blacks are arrested than whites it is because more blacks committed crimes than whites, or committed crimes at a higher rate.  However, reliable national survey data doesn’t support a rational explanation for the great racial disparity in U.S. drug arrests.

The National Household Survey (NHS), published by the Department of Health and Human Services, provides data for producing estimates of the number of drug users by race.[5]   These estimates of using populations are available at a regional level of analysis. (These estimates are provided in Appendix 1.)  The prevalence of annual drug use for both blacks and whites has been derived for each of nine regions of the country and applied to the coverage population in each region.  The results provide counts of the number of possession arrests and the estimated number of drug users in each region.  For this report these figures have been reconciled into arrest rates of the drug using population.  This provides a way to determine if the magnitude of the disparities between black and white arrest rates is in any way explained by differences in the prevalence of drug use.

Survey Data

Survey data reports slightly higher drug use by blacks than by whites.  According to the 1995 National Household Survey 7.9 percent of blacks report use of any illicit drug within the past 30 days compared to 6.0 percent for whites. On this basis, illegal drug use by blacks is 32 percent higher than illegal drug use by whites.  However, the overall arrest rate for blacks for drug offenses (1,749 per 100,000) is four times the rate for whites (440).  Marijuana use is 25 percent higher among blacks (5.9 percent) than among whites (4.7 percent) but the arrest rate for blacks for marijuana possession is 2.6 times higher than it is for whites.

Reported cocaine use in the last month by blacks (1.1 percent) is almost twice as high as reported use by whites (.6 percent) but this does not explain why the arrest rate for blacks for opiate/cocaine possession is five times higher than the rate for whites.

Annual Versus Monthly Use

Drug use prevalence estimates from the NHS have been used to calculate the number of drug users in each of the regional populations from which arrest data is available.  In other words, the NHS estimates the percentage of each racial group in each region that uses drugs on an annual basis.  The NHS estimates for annual use of marijuana and for annual use of any illicit drug, by region, are provided in Appendix 1.  On an annual basis the overall difference between drug use by blacks and whites narrows.  While a greater percentage of blacks (9.49 percent) had used marijuana in the past year than whites (8.36 percent), the difference was only 13.5 percent higher, much less than the difference in monthly use.  On an annual basis 12.3 percent of blacks had used any illicit drug in the past year, compared to 10.63 percent for whites, black use being 15.7 percent higher than white use.

Arrest Rate

The regional percentage estimates from the National Household Survey data have been applied to the coverage populations represented by the UCR arrest data and used to calculate arrest rates to estimate the number of drug users by race in the coverage populations of each region.  Table 2 summarizes the reconciliation of 1995 marijuana possession and annual marijuana use data for this metropolitan area data.

The metro area total for marijuana possession arrests in 339,605.  The estimate of metro area marijuana users is 14,626,139.  The arrest rate for metro area marijuana users, for marijuana possession offenses, is 2,322 per 100,000.  This means that 2.3 percent of all marijuana users were arrested for possession.  The user arrest rate varies from 1.2 percent of all marijuana users in the Pacific region to 3.3 percent of all marijuana users in the West South Central region.

However, when black and white sub-populations are examined the marijuana user arrest rate for blacks is 4,531 compared to 1,997 for whites. The black rate is still 2.27 times higher than the white rate.  The black rate varies from 1,662 in the Pacific region to 6,109 in the West North Central region  (data is not available for blacks in New England).  The white rate varies from 1,223 in the Pacific region to 3,184 in the West South Central region.  The ratio of the black arrest rate to the white arrest rate is highest in the West North Central states (3.17) and lowest in the Mountain states (1.27).

Table 3 summarizes the reconciliation of 1995 drug possession and annual drug use data for this metropolitan area data. The metro area total for all drug possession arrests is 797,903.  The estimate of metro area drug users, of any illicit drug including marijuana, is 18,801,903.

The arrest rate for metro area drug users, for drug possession offenses, is 4,245 per 100,000 users, or 4.2 percent.  The user arrest rate varies from 2,767 in the Mountain states to 5,182 in the Middle Atlantic States of New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.

When black and white sub-populations are examined the drug user arrest rate for blacks is 9,721 compared to 3,361 for whites -- the black rate is still 2.89 times higher than the white rate.  The black rate varies from 4,822 in the Mountain states to 12,885 in the West North Central states (data is not available for blacks in New England).  The white rate varies from 1,888 in the East North Central to 4,618 in the Pacific region.  The ratio of the black arrest rate to the white rate is highest in the West North Central (5.85) and lowest in the Mountain (1.75) and Pacific (1.80) regions.

Disparities in black and white arrest rates can not be explained by differences in drug using populations.  Blacks are not arrested for drug crimes at a higher rate than whites because they are more black drug users than white users.  This characteristic of drug arrests is consistent for marijuana and all drug possession arrests, and is consistent in all regions of the country.

Table. 2  Reconciliation of 1995 Metro Area Marijuana Possession Arrests and Annual Marijuana Use Estimates

 

ALL

BLACK

WHITE

 
 

Arrests

Users

(est.)

Rate

Arrests

Users

(est.)

Rate

Arrests

Users

(est.)

Rate

Ratio B:W

New England:
CT, ME, MA, RI, VT, NH

15,582

853,373

1,825.93

3,175

NA

NA

12,332

781,119

1,578.76

NA

Middle Atlantic:
NJ, NY, PA

66,894

2,340,855

2,857.67

25,250

498,706

5,063.11

41,301

1,844,021

2,239.73

2.26

East North Central:
 IL, IN, MI, OH, WI

31,929

1,559,801

2,046.99

9,801

275,043

3,563.44

21,997

1,268,361

1,734.29

2.05

West North Central:
IA, KS, MN, MO, NE, ND, SD

18,169

745,820

2,436.11

5,375

87,983

6,109.12

12,427

643,835

1,930.15

3.17

South Atlantic:
DE, DC, MD, WV, VA, NC, SC, GA, FL

80,906

2,744,545

2,947.88

29,824

591,795

5,039.58

50,704

2,119,042

2,392.78

2.11

East South Central:
AL, KY, MS, TN

8,490

299,610

2,833.68

2,649

50,273

5,269.19

5,818

245,094

2,373.78

2.22

West South Central:
AR, LA, OK, TX

53,728

1,593,570

3,371.55

14,838

265,934

5,579.58

38,576

1,211,650

3,183.76

1.75

Mountain:
AZ, CO, ID, MT, NV, NM, UT, WY

20,731

943,326

2,197.65

1,986

69,883

2,841.88

18,307

820,309

2,231.72

1.27

Pacific:
AK, CA, OR, WA, HI

43,176

3,545,238

1,217.86

5,537

333,108

1,662.22

36,490

2,983,208

1,223.18

1.36

United States

339,605

14,626,139

2,321.90

98,435

2,172,726

4,530.48

237,952

11,916,640

1,996.80

2.27

Notes, Assumptions, and Sources:

NA: Not Available
ARRESTS: total metro area marijuana possession arrests for the region.
USERS: estimates of total annual marijuana users for metro areas of the region.
RATE: arrest rate per 100,000 estimated marijuana users.
Source for Arrest Data: Uniform Crime Survey
Source for Proportional Estimates of Using Population: National Household Survey.
For the purpose of this reconciliation it is assumed that all individuals arrested for marijuana possession are marijuana users.

Table. 3  Reconciliation of 1995 Metro Area Drug Possession Arrests and Annual Drug Use Estimates

  

ALL

BLACK

WHITE

 
 

Arrests

Users

(est.)

Rate

Arrests

Users

(est.)

Rate

Arrests

Users

(est.)

Rate

Ratio B:W

New England:
CT, ME, MA, RI, VT, NH

33,334

944,186

3,530.45

9,050

NA

NA

24,125

866,000

2,785.80

NA

Middle Atlantic:
NJ, NY, PA

150,972

2,913,350

5,182.08

68,309

639,058

10,689.01

81,945

2,291,231

3,576.46

2.99

East North Central:
 IL, IN, MI, OH, WI

57,014

2,023,160

2,818.07

24,979

318,774

7,835.95

31,855

1,686,858

1,888.42

4.15

West North Central:
IA, KS, MN, MO, NE, ND, SD

31,825

921,652

3,453.04

13,761

106,798

12,885.08

17,578

797,921

2,202.98

5.85

South Atlantic:
DE, DC, MD, WV, VA, NC, SC, GA, FL

158,511

3,350,179

4,731.42

82,179

852,809

9,636.27

75,763

2,450,868

3,091.27

3.12

East South Central:
AL, KY, MS, TN

14,343

424,436

3,379.31

6,223

56,842

10,947.83

8,095

365,321

2,215.86

4.94

West South Central:
AR, LA, OK, TX

93,782

2,148,279

4,365.45

33,680

365,050

9,226.14

59,623

1,662,780

3,585.74

2.57

Mountain:
AZ, CO, ID, MT, NV, NM, UT, WY

38,826

1,403,352

2,766.66

4,600

95,394

4,822.08

33,502

1,216,772

2,753.35

1.75

Pacific:
AK, CA, OR, WA, HI

219,296

4,673,311

4,692.52

36,638

439,738

8,331.77

178,786

3,871,472

4,618.04

1.80

United States

797,903

18,801,903

4,243.74

279,419

2,874,465

9,720.73

511,272

15,209,224

3,361.59

2.89

Notes, Assumptions, and Sources:

NA: Not Available
ARRESTS: total metro area drug possession arrests for the region.
USERS: estimates of total annual drug users for metro areas of the region.
RATE: arrest rate per 100,000 estimated drug users.
Source for Arrest Data: Uniform Crime Survey
Source for Proportional Estimates of Using Population: National Household Survey.
For the purpose of this reconciliation it is assumed that all individuals arrested for drug possession are drug users

Local level comparison of Drug Arrest Rates, 1995

Question #3.  What differences exist at the local level between black and white drug arrest rates?

The full 1995 data set available at www.norml.org/facts/arrestreport /racereport/index/html presents state tables that provide the number of arrests for each racial category, their respective estimated racial populations, and the resulting arrest rates by race – expressed per 100,000.  Data was not available for metropolitan area counties in Illinois, Kansas, Montana or New Hampshire.  Each state table includes summary data for all listed jurisdictions.

Three additional sets of summary tables have been compiled.  1.) National tables are composed of state totals.  2.) Another set of summary tables reports data on core metropolitan counties with populations over 500,000.  This metro set is comprised on most of the major cities in the United States, defined by the county they are located in.  This set includes New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Houston, St. Louis and other major cities.  3.) A third set of tables consists of metro area counties in the data set where the black population is 33 percent or more of the county population.

Finally, in order to provide a descriptive summary of the data set, all data was re-coded into three categories based on a comparison of black and white arrest rates (the black rate is divided by the white rate, if the black rate is greater the resulting ratio will be greater than 1).  Metro counties where the white rate was equal to or higher than the black rate were coded 1.  Counties where the black rate was greater but less than twice the white rate were coded 2.  Counties where the black rate was twice the white rate or greater were coded 3.  The distributions of these descriptive statistics for each of the 11 categories of data follows in Table 4 below.

Table 4.  Distribution of Ratio of Black Arrest Rates to White Arrest Rates

   

Code 1

Code 2

Code 3

Drug Offense

Number of cases

B/W <1

B/W > 1 & B/W < 2

B/W >2

   

(%)

(%)

(%)

All

700

3.29

11.71

85.00

All Sales

601

2.33

6.49

91.18

Cocaine/Opiate Sales

546

.37

1.65

97.99

Marijuana Sales

508

13.98

21.46

64.57

Synthetic Narcotic Sales

166

18.67

12.65

68.67

Other Non-narcotic Sales

258

20.54

15.12

64.34

All Possession

689

4.93

16.11

78.96

Cocaine/Opiate Possession

588

1.70

4.42

93.88

Marijuana Possession

676

9.76

26.63

63.61

Synthetic Narcotic Possession

251

25.50

21.91

52.59

Other Non-narcotic Possession

358

21.23

16.48

62.29

These distributions indicate the probability that a metropolitan county will have the relationship between black and white arrest rates defined by the category.  There is only a 3.29 percent probability that a metro county in this data set has an overall arrest rate for whites that is higher than it is for blacks, and an 11.71 percent probability that the black rate is greater but less than twice as large. Another way to express this is by saying the odds are 85 in 100 that the black arrest rate for all drug offenses is twice or greater the white arrest rate.  In other words, pick any five counties at random and four of them will have black arrest rates that are twice as high as the white rates, or are even higher.


[1] Human Rights Watch, Punishment and Prejudice: Racial Disparities in the War on Drugs, New York, June 2000.

[2] Schiraldi V, Holman B,  Beatty P.  (2000) Poor Prescription: The Costs of Imprisoning Drug Offenders in the United States. Washington, D.C.:  Justice Policy Institute/Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. [http://www.cjcj.org/drug/]

[3] Chilton, Rowland, and Dee Weber. Uniform Crime Reporting Program [United States]: Arrests By Age, Sex, And Race For Police Agencies In Metropolitan Statistical Areas, 1960-1995[Computer fil

Section Three:  Marijuana

In 1995, marijuana possession accounted for 34.1 percent of all drug arrests and 31.5 percent of the metro area drug arrests considered in this report.  Total marijuana possession arrests for 1995 were estimated by the UCR at 503,350.  The metropolitan area data includes 339,605, or two thirds, of those arrests.  All further references below to arrest data will be to this metro area data set.

When the offense is marijuana possession, the arrest rate for blacks is generally two and a half times greater than the arrest rate for whites.  Table 5 provides summary information from different cross-sections of the metropolitan county data set.  The ten states selected all have coverage populations over a million and represent areas with the highest and lowest arrest rates for blacks.

When the black arrest rate for marijuana possession is low, it is usually because the overall arrest rate for marijuana possession is low, and even then, blacks are arrested at a greater rate than whites [See Table 6].  California has one of the lowest overall arrest rates for marijuana possession in the sample, 116, and yet the arrest rate for blacks (218) is still 1.77 times greater than the rate for whites (123). In Colorado, the arrest rate for blacks is one of the highest in the country (756), and nearly three times the white arrest rate (252). The marijuana possession arrest rate for blacks is generally lower in counties with the largest black populations on a percentage basis.

Table 5.  Selected Summary Data of Marijuana Possession Arrest Rates

 

All

black

white

Am. Ind.

Asn-Pac.

Ratio of black Rate/white Rate

United States

193

427

166

103

22

2.57

Metro Core Counties (n=63)

199

447

165

105

20

2.71

Counties 1/3 black Pop. (n=54)

213

303

139

42

22

2.18

             

Colorado

271

756

252

183

47

3.00

Missouri

262

659

185

60

46

3.56

Connecticut

212

646

168

52

19

3.85

New York

241

639

176

64

8

3.63

Minnesota

159

612

141

285

110

4.34

Nevada

131

311

118

37

25

2.64

Oregon

163

303

165

69

31

1.84

Michigan

166

287

152

35

10

1.89

California

116

218

123

39

10

1.77

Pennsylvania

73

149

63

41

9

2.37

Note:  Rates are per 100,000 population.

Metropolitan Areas That Do Not Have Great Racial Disperity In Their Enforcement Of Marijuana Laws

Before taking a closer look at specific local examples of the disparity between black and white marijuana possession arrest rates, the cases that do not fit this profile should be examined.  Among the 63 metro core counties only three report white arrest rates greater than black arrest rates for marijuana possession: Detroit, MI, Honolulu, HI, and Bakersfield, CA.  In Detroit the white rate is 300 compared to a black rate of 125.  In Bakersfield the white rate is 69 while the black rate is 57.  The results from Honolulu are especially interesting because the majority population is Asian-Pacific rendering both white and black population to minority status.  In Honolulu, the marijuana possession arrest rates are as follows: All (71), blacks (51), whites (65), Am. Indians (46), and Asian-Pacific (76).  In the city of Baltimore, MD the two rates are closer, blacks (351), whites (311).  All four of these jurisdictions demonstrate that it is possible to enforce marijuana laws without creating disparities in arrest rates according race.  Of greater importance is that these four counties, as well as the nearly 10 percent of metro counties where the white rate was equal to or greater than the black rate, contradict any suggestion that the higher arrest rates for blacks are an inevitable consequence of drug law enforcement.  However, these examples also sharpen the focus on the remaining 90 percent of metro area counties where the black arrest rate exceeds the white rate, especially the 64 percent where it is two times greater or more.  Policy makers may ask themselves, "If areas as diverse as Detroit, Bakersfield, and Honolulu can be color blind in their enforcement of marijuana laws, why can't other metro counties?"

The greatest disparities between arrest rates among metro counties with at least a population of 500,000, with available data are listed in Table 6.

Table 6.  Greatest Disparities in Black and White Marijuana Possession Arrest Rates in Metropolitan Core Counties

Metro Area

County

ST

All

black

white

Am. Ind.

Asn-Pac.

Ratio of black Rate/ white Rate

Syracuse

Onondaga

NY

310

1,795

169

273

0

10.61

Rochester

Monroe

NY

198

703

125

0

65

5.63

Cleveland

Cuyahoga

OH

271

689

124

0

0

5.56

Minneapolis

Hennepin

MN

170

688

130

300

42

5.31

Atlanta

Fulton

GA

470

759

148

79

70

5.12

Hartford

Hartford

CT

285

938

206

186

24

4.56

Pittsburgh

Allegheny

PA

98

307

69

0

0

4.43

Washington

 

DC

306

421

104

0

44

4.05

Cincinnati

Hamilton

OH

549

1,292

341

0

20

3.79

Kansas City

Jackson

MO

477

1,093

292

64

122

3.74

Note:  Rates are per 100,000 population.

Table 6 lists the metropolitan counties with the greatest disparities between black and white arrest rates for marijuana possession.  Table 6 only includes the top core or central counties of metropolitan areas.  Table 7 lists the highest ratios of all metropolitan counties that meet three additional criteria -- they had at least 100 marijuana arrests, a black population of over 1,000, and the marijuana possession arrest rate for blacks is at least five times that for whites.  Fifty-six counties meet these criteria, and in six of them the black arrest rate is more than ten times the white rate -- St. Louis, MN, Albany, NY, Onondaga, NY, Minnehaha, SD, St Joseph, IN and Lake, OH.  These counties are in the Duluth, Albany, Syracuse, Sioux Falls, South Bend, and Cleveland metropolitan areas respectively.

American Indian Marijuana Arrest Rate

Several of the entries in Table 7 include relatively large marijuana arrest rates for American Indians.  Table 8 below applies the same general comparative standards to American Indian and white arrest rates - the listed areas have more than 100 marijuana arrests and American Indian populations over 1,000.  The ratios of American Indian arrest rates to white arrest rates in Table 4 range from 7.93 in Cumberland County, NC to 1.02 in Utah County, UT.  The overall marijuana possession arrest rate for American Indians living in metropolitan area counties is 104.  In Table 8 the American Indian arrest rates range from 71 in Albuquerque, NM to 1,062 in Woodbury, IA (20 arrests out of a population of 1,883).

Asian-Pacific Marijuana Arrest Rate

Table 9 displays similar data comparing Asian-Pacific and white arrest rates for marijuana possession, however only 12 metropolitan counties in the country have comparison ratios greater than one, compared to 31 where American Indian rates are higher.

            Marijuana Sales Arrest Create Even Greater Disparity

While they will not be reviewed in as much detail, similar trends exist with respect to marijuana sales arrests.  Considering national totals for marijuana sales arrests, the overall arrest rate for metro area counties is 37 per 100,000.  However, for blacks it is 101 compared to 28 for whites.  In metro core counties the black rate is 125 compared to a white rate of 30.  In counties with at least one-third black populations the black rate is 80 compared to a white rate of 35.  Just as in the case of marijuana possession the black rate is lower in areas with larger black populations, but still over twice the rate for whites.  Table 11 provides data on 25 counties with the greatest disparities between black and white marijuana sales arrest rates, in counties with a minimum of 100 marijuana arrests and at a black population of at least 1,000.  In this cross-section, black arrest rates are 6.5 to 35 times higher than white arrest rates, highlighting an important findings of this report –  the disparity between black and white arrest rates increases when offenses with greater penalties are considered


Table 7.  Greatest Disparities in Black and White Marijuana Possession Arrest Rates in Metropolitan Counties

Metro Area

County

ST

All

black

white

Am. Ind.

Asn-Pac.

Ratio of black Rate/ white Rate

Cleveland-Lorain-Elyria. OH

Lake

OH

84

1,245

63

0

0

19.77

South Bend, IN

St. Joseph

IN

125

679

60

0

0

11.27

Sioux Falls, SD

Minnehaha

SD

333

3,254

304

834

0

10.71

Syracuse, NY

Onondaga

NY

310

1,795

169

273

0

10.61

Albany-Schenectady-Troy, NY

Albany

NY

623

3,524

334

0

47

10.56

Duluth-Superior, MN-WI.

St. Louis

MN

165

1,547

150

441

213

10.34

Saginaw-Bay City-Midland, MI

Bay

MI

179

1,417

166

0

0

8.54

Omaha, NE-IA

Douglas

NE

555

2,518

300

922

98

8.39

Wilmington-Newark, DE-MD

Cecil

MD

610

3,653

448

0

0

8.16

Albany-Schenectady-Troy, NY

Schenectady

NY

192

1,165

146

0

40

8.00

Barnstable-Yarmouth, MA

Barnstable

MA

208

1,451

183

540

0

7.91

Detroit, MI

Macomb

MI

142

1,022

130

0

0

7.85

Washington, DC-MD-VA-WV

Berkeley

WV

161

991

129

0

0

7.67

Scranton-Wilkes Barre-Hazleton, PA

Luzerne

PA

51

349

48

0

0

7.32

Pittsfield, MA

Berkshire

MA

166

1,063

148

0

0

7.18

Rochester, MN

Olmsted

MN

170

1,170

168

0

22

6.98

Youngstown-Warren, OH

Mahoning

OH

115

401

60

0

0

6.72

Madison, WI

Dane

WI

142

794

121

144

55

6.59

Lancaster, PA

Lancaster

PA

108

612

94

184

0

6.48

New London-Norwich, CT-RI

New London

CT

269

1,377

213

0

0

6.45

Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, NC

Durham

NC

87

186

29

0

22

6.40

Grand Rapids-Muskegon-Holland, MI

Kent

MI

284

1,231

196

77

0

6.28

Dayton-Springfield, OH

Clark

OH

78

324

52

0

0

6.23

Binghamton, NY

Broome

NY

270

1,512

244

0

132

6.20

Rocky Mount, NC

Nash

NC

58

600

98

0

0

6.14

Sarasota-Bradenton, FL

Sarasota

FL

234

1,152

188

0

0

6.12

Trenton, NJ

Mercer

NJ

413

1,256

206

0

44

6.11

Charleston, WV

Kanawha

WV

179

802

135

0

0

5.94

Baton Rouge, LA

East Baton Rouge

LA

494

1,051

177

0

45

5.92

Lincoln, NE

Lancaster

NE

358

1,906

324

742

20

5.88

Jamestown, NY

Chautauqua

NY

208

1,104

188

153

136

5.86

Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, PA

Lehigh

PA

87

454

78

0

0

5.83

Spokane, WA

Spokane

WA

272

1,480

256

330

56

5.79

Milwaukee-Waukesha, WI

Waukesha

WI

281

1,600

278

0

92

5.76

Redding, CA

Shasta

CA

184

1,023

180

223

0

5.67

Rochester, NY

Monroe

NY

198

703

125

0

65

5.63

Davenport-Rock Island-Moline, IA-IL

Scott

IA

277

1,248

222

0

0

5.63

Buffalo-Niagara Falls, NY

Niagara

NY

107

473

84

94

0

5.61

Detroit, MI

St. Clair

MI

161

819

146

137

0

5.59

Cleveland-Lorain-Elyria. OH

Cuyahoga

OH

271

689

124

0

0

5.56

                 

Metro Area

County

ST

All

black

white

Am. Ind.

Asn-Pac.

Ratio of black Rate/ white Rate

 

               

Albany-Schenectady-Troy, NY

Rensselaer

NY

245

1,178

212

320

36

5.56

Toledo, OH

Lucas

OH

55

177

32

0

0

5.47

Denver, CO

Jefferson

CO

133

713

130

0

49

5.47

Providence-Fall River-Warwick, RI-MA

Kent

RI

305

1,610

299

0

0

5.39

Hartford, CT

Middlesex

CT

256

1,151

215

0

154

5.34

Minneapolis-St. Paul, Mn.-WI

Hennepin

MN

170

688

130

300

42

5.31

Iowa City, IA

Johnson

IA

153

756

144

905

0

5.24

Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers, AR

Washington

AK

340

1,692

324

0

0

5.23

York, PA

York

PA

58

262

50

0

39

5.21

Boston, MA-NH

Bristol

MA

180

861

167

218

19

5.16

Sioux City, IA-NE

Woodbury

IA

313

1,394

271

1,062

469

5.14

Atlanta, GA

Fulton

GA

469

759

148

79

70

5.12

Lake Charles, LA

Calcasieu

LA

308

790

154

0

0

5.12

Jackson, MI

Jackson

MI

211

804

158

0

347

5.09

Wilmington-Newark, DE-MD

New Castle

DE

166

486

97

0

42

5.00

Pittsburgh, PA

Westmoreland

PA

71

329

66

0

0

5.00

Note:  Rates are per 100,000 population.
Table 8.  Greatest Disparities in American Indian and white Marijuana Possession Arrest Rates in Metropolitan Counties

Metro Area

County

ST

All

black

white

Am. Ind.

Asn-Pac.

Ratio of black Rate/ white Rate

Fayetteville, NC

Cumberland

NC

186

346

95

756

33

7.93

Rapid City, SD

Pennington

SD

134

397

93

573

85

6.18

Green Bay, WI

Brown

WI

154

1322

138

680

0

4.94

Bellingham, WA

Whatcom

WA

114

826

100

423

60

4.23

Sioux City, IA-NE

Woodbury

IA

313

1,394

271

1,062

469

3.92

Greensboro-Winston-Salem-High Point, NC

Guilford

NC

496

907

341

1,104

362

3.24

Lawton, OK

Comanche

OK

131

218

100

310

102

3.12

Omaha, NB-IA

Douglas

NE

555

2518

300

922

98

3.07

Duluth-Superior, MN-WI

St. Louis

MN

165

1547

150

441

213

2.94

Yakima, WA

Yakima

WA

156

317

141

401

0

2.85

Sioux Falls, SD

Minnehaha

SD

333

3254

304

834

0

2.74

Salt Lake City-Ogden, UT

Salt Lake

UT

225

763

219

576

124

2.63

Jacksonville, NC

Onslow

NC

138

245

112

272

71

2.43

Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN-WI

Hennepin

MN

170

688

130

300

42

2.32

Lincoln, NE

Lancaster

NE

358

1906

324

742

20

2.29

Fort Lauderdale, FL

Broward

FL

224

417

187

370

15

1.98

Albuquerque, NM

Bernalillo

NM

47

142

43

71

0

1.63

Syracuse, NY

Onondaga

NY

310

1795

169

273

0

1.61

Portland-Vancouver, OR-WA

Clark

WA

114

220

114

173

59

1.52

Bremerton, WA

Kitsap

WA

80

59

84

127

0

1.51

Salt Lake City-Ogden, UT

Davis

UT

174

147

177

251

48

1.42

Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN-WI

Ramsey

MN

131

237

130

175

41

1.35

Spokane, WA

Spokane

WA

272

1480

256

330

56

1.29

Tacoma, WA

Pierce

WA

87

224

78

98

34

1.26

Redding, CA

Shasta

CA

184

1023

180

223

0

1.24

Madison, WI

Dane

WI

142

794

121

144

55

1.20

Middlesex-Somerset-Hunterdon, NJ

Middlesex

NJ

187

541

167

188

24

1.13

Buffalo-Niagara Falls, NY

Niagara

NY

107

473

84

94

0

1.11

Oklahoma City, OK

Canadian

OK

270

181

274

295

162

1.08

Phoenix-Mesa, AZ

Maricopa

AZ

195

413

189

199

45

1.05

Provo-Orem, UT

Utah

UT

300

0

305

310

92

1.02

Note:  Rates are per 100,000 population.

Table 9.  Greatest Disparities in Asian-Pacific and white Marijuana Possession Arrest Rates in Metropolitan Counties

Metro Area

County

ST

All

black

white

Am. Ind.

Asn-Pac.

Ratio of black Rate/ white Rate

Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN-WI

Dakota

MN

158

339

146

92

549

3.77

Charleston-North Charleston, SC

Dorchester

SC

142

117

146

355

289

1.98

Sioux City, IA-NE

Woodbury

IA

313

1,394

271

1,062

469

1.73

Newark, NJ

Sussex

NJ

186

353

183

0

266

1.45

Duluth-Superior, MN-WI

St. Louis

MN

165

1,547

150

441

213

1.42

St. Cloud, MN

Stearns

MN

181

1,882

170

1,298

240

1.41

Brazoria, TX

Brazoria

TX

159

234

152

0

201

1.32

Goldsboro, NC

Wayne

NC

107

186

68

0

83

1.21

Honolulu, HI

Honolulu

HI

71

51

64

46

76

1.18

Greensboro-Winston-Salem-High Point, NC

Guilford

NC

496

907

341

1,104

362

1.06

Sumter, SC

Sumter

SC

104

129

85

0

89

1.06

Lawton, OK

Comanche

OK

131

218

100

310

102

1.02

Note:  Rates are per 100,000 population.

Table 10. Greatest Disparities in Black and White Marijuana Sales Arrest Rates in Metropolitan Counties

Metro Area

County

ST

All

black

white

Am. Ind.

Asn-Pac.

Ratio of black Rate/ white Rate

Binghamton, NY

Broome

NY

62

1,241

36

0

0

34.70

Fort Lauderdale, FL

Broward

FL

36

170

8

0

0

20.35

Erie, PA

Erie

PA

59

463

33

0

139

14.08

Boston, MA-NH

Plymouth

MA

58

465

38

0

0

12.33

Atlanta, GA

Cobb

GA

204

1,134

93

0

0

12.24

Trenton, NJ

Mercer

NJ

143

536

44

0

0

12.18

Washington, DC-MD-VA-WV

District of Columbia

DC

27

40

3

0

0

12.11

Orlando, FL

Orange

FL

22

89

9

0

0

9.83

New York, NY

New York

NY

73

219

23

11

5

9.69

Lancaster, PA

Lancaster

PA

40

311

33

0

0

9.51

Rochester, NY

Monroe

NY

22

99

11

0

6

9.20

Grand Rapids-Muskegon-Holland, MI

Kent

MI

28

151

16

0

0

9.18

Cleveland-Lorain-Elyria. OH

Cuyahoga

OH

41

120

13

0

0

8.94

Green Bay, WI

Brown

WI

140

1,107

124

683

0

8.90

Miami, FL

Dade

FL

50

169

20

0

0

8.60

Orlando, FL

Seminole

FL

37

185

22

0

0

8.41

Washington, DC-MD-VA-WV

Montgomery

MD

22

90

11

43

3

8.02

Philadelphia, PA-NJ

Delaware

PA

48

207

26

259

0

8.00

Sacramento, CA

Placer

CA

51

383

51

0

0

7.52

Monmouth-Ocean, NJ

Ocean

NJ

34

203

29

0

0

6.99

New York, NY

Nassau

NY

12

54

8

0

0

6.83

Nassau-Suffolk, NY

Nassau

NY

12

54

8

0

0

6.83

Detroit, MI

Macomb

MI

25

153

23

0

10

6.64

Columbus, OH

Franklin

OH

23

75

11

0

37

6.59

Pittsburgh, PA

Allegheny

PA

50

195

30

0

19

6.46

Note:  Rates are per 100,000 population.

Section Four: Other Drugs

Marijuana and Violence?       

While marijuana arrest rates have increased since 1995, non-marijuana drug arrests have not.  Thus, it is misleading to attribute drops in violent crime in the late 1990s to increases in all drug arrests because the only drug arrests that have increased have been marijuana offenses.  This is a subtle but important distinction.  Extensive research has been done on the relationship between commerce in illegal drugs, violence and other crimes.  Much of this research, such as several studies by Paul Goldstein[1], indicates that marijuana-related violence is confined to its illegal commerce rather than its use by consumers.  Unlike heroin or alcohol few connections involve marijuana users who do not generally commit crimes in order to pay for marijuana, nor commit violent acts while under the influence of the drug.  A recent Institute of Medicine study on drug abuse research noted that:

            "marijuana users have been reported to have decreased aggression compared to nonusers.[2]  Animal studies show that acute doses of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, can inhibit attack or threat behavior.[3]  Large scale studies of incarcerated adolescents found that marijuana was the drug least likely to be associated with sexual or assaultive crimes.[4]" [5]

Also, "drug sales and crime are more strongly related than drug use and crime."[6] The use of drugs such as cocaine, alcohol and methamphetamine, however, have been associated with violence and other crimes.[7]  It is reasonable to suggest that increases in non-marijuana drug arrests could contribute to a reduction in other and more violent crimes, both related to the competition over drug commerce and acts committed by individuals under the influence.  It is also possible to argue that the reduction in violent crime in the late 1990s was due in part to increases in all drug arrests. This argument falls short when the distinction between marijuana and other drugs is factored in because there is no theoretical or empirical justification for the argument that increases in marijuana arrests would somehow reduce other forms of crime.  The reason this subtle distinction is important is that without it there appears to be an "ends justify the means" argument that unequal arrest rates for blacks and whites is a necessary evil because it has contributed to reductions in violent crime. Based on this analysis, such an argument would be a fallacy.

Table 11 provides a breakdown of national arrest rates for metropolitan area counties by race and by individual offense.  In six out of eight offense categories, the black arrest rate is several magnitudes higher than the white arrest rate.  In sales arrests, the black rate for marijuana is 3.6 times higher, for opiates/cocaine 8.2 times higher, and for other non-narcotic drugs it is 3.5 times higher.  In possession arrests, the black rate for marijuana (MJ) is 2.6 times higher, for opiates/cocaine (OC) 5.2 times higher, and for other non-narcotic drugs (OTH)it is two times higher.  One thing all three of these prior categories have in common is that drug control efforts to limit illicit production have been ineffectual.  For sales of synthetic narcotics (SYN), the black rate is only 1.7 times higher than the white rate, and for possession it is only 1.3 times higher.

Table 11.  Consolidated Summary of National Arrest Rates by Drug Category

 

Sales

Possession

 
 

MJ

OC

SYN

OTH

MJ

OC

SYN

OTH

Total*

All

37

117

11

36

193

193

17

92

696

black

101

485

17

97

427

657

22

168

1,974

white

28

59

10

28

166

126

17

85

519

Am. In.

18

15

4

14

104

53

8

60

276

As.-Pac.

4

7

0

4

22

19

1

13

71

Note:  Rates are per 100,000 population.

*These consolidated rates to not agree with arrest rates for all drug offenses listed in the appendix tables because of differences in the number of counties reporting for each separate offense and those reporting data for all drug offenses.

In all offense categories, the overall arrest rate masks significant disparities in the arrest rates for different racial groups.  Table 13 presents summary data on arrest rates for Opiate/Cocaine possession for ten states that have over one million population represented in the metro area data (five each of the lowest and highest ratios between black and white arrest rates).  In these ten states, the arrest rate for the entire population varies from a low of 49 per 100,000 in Indiana to a high of 329 in New York.  These figures mask tremendously higher rates of arrest for blacks and even lower arrest rates for whites for possession of opiates (such as heroin) and/or cocaine (including crack).  Much has been made of the disparities in sentencing between cocaine and crack offenders, with a reliance on the premise that crack offenders are more likely to be black.  However, the disparities in arrest rates by race represent even greater inequalities.  The arrest rate for blacks for opiate/cocaine possession in these 10 states ranges from a low of 253 in Indiana, nearly five times the rate for the entire population, to a high of 1,430 per 100,000 in Minnesota.  The rate of arrest for whites in these two states are 16 and 20 respectively;  the black arrest rate for this offense in Indiana is 16 times higher than the arrest rate for whites, and in Minnesota the black arrest rate is 70 times higher.  In this group of ten states, the white rate varies from a low of 16 in Indiana to a high of 283 in California, where the black rate, while only 2.85 times higher, is 809.



[1] For example, see Goldstein, PJ.  The drugs-violence nexus:  A tri-partite conceptual framework.  Journal of Drug Issues  15: 493-506.

[2] Cherek DR, Steinberg JL.  1987  Effects of drugs on human behavior.  In : Burrows GD, Werry JS, eds.  Advances in Human Psychopharmacology.  Greenwich, CT: JAI Press. Pp. 239-290.  Cited in Institute of Medicine, Pathways of Addiction, 1996.  Opportunities in Drug Abuse Research.  Washington, D.C.:  National Academy Press.

[3] Miczek KA, Debold JF, Haney M, Tidey J., vivian J. Weerts EM.  1994.  An overview of biological influences on violent behavior.  Understanding and Preventing Violence. Vol. 3, Social Influences.  Washington, DC: National Academy Press.  Pp. 377-570. Cited in Institute of Medicine, Pathways of Addiction, 1996.  Opportunities in Drug Abuse Research.  Washington, D.C.:  National Academy Press.

[4] Tinklenberg EZ, Roth WT, Kopell BS, Murphy P. 1976.  Cannabis and alcohol effects in assaultiveness in adolescent delinquents.  Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.  282:85-94. Cited in Institute of Medicine, Pathways of Addiction, 1996.  Opportunities in Drug Abuse Research.  Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

[5] Institute of Medicine, Pathways of Addiction, 1996.  Opportunities in Drug Abuse Research.  Washington, D.C.:  National Academy Press. Pg. 179.

[6] Chaiken JM, Chaiken MR.  1990. Drugs and predatory crime.  In:  Tonry M, Wilson JQ, eds.  Drugs and Crime, Vol 13, Crime and Justice: A Review of the Literature.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press.  Pp. 203-239. Cited in Institute of Medicine, Pathways of Addiction, 1996.  Opportunities in Drug Abuse Research.  Washington, D.C.:  National Academy Press.

[7] Ibid. pg. 176 - 180. 


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