Pot criminalization is more costly than feared, both in terms of tax dollars wasted and its impact as a tool of institutionalized racism, this according to a first-of-its-kind, 185-page study released by the American Civil Liberties Union, poignantly titled "The War on Marijuana in Black and White."
In compiling their report, the ACLU thoroughly examined FBI-provided marijuana possession arrest rates in 2010 in every county of all 50 states and discovered that the African-Americans pot bust rate was 716 per 100,000, while the white pot arrest rate was only 192 per 100,000. Blacks are nearly four times (3.73) times as likely to be arrested for pot possession than whites – even though pot usage is basically the same across the board for both races. And the disparity is on the rise, having jumped almost 33 percent in the last decade.
In the worst counties in the country, blacks were 30 percent more likely to be arrested than whites for cannabis – even when they only made up 5 percent of the county's population. The study also uniquely contains profiles of individuals who've had their records tainted permanently because of a pot bust, which lends the report a more personal perspective.
There were almost 900,000 total pot arrests in 2010 – one every 37 seconds. These busts and convictions have contributed to the U.S. currently holding an absurd 25 percent of the entire planet's prison population, even though America only comprises 5 percent of the global population. In 2010 alone, over 20,000 Americans were incarcerated for mere possession. And despite medical marijuana being legal in nearly half the country, almost half of all drug arrests (46 percent) were for pot in 2010, with 88 percent of those for simple possession, suggesting the War on Drugs should be more accurately phrased the "war on marijuana users".
And the bill for all this nonsense is nothing to laugh about; states spent more than $3.61 billion combined in 2010 to enforce pot possession laws – New York and California alone spending $1 billion – for a nationwide average of $750 per arrest.
Twenty billion dollars are projected to be spent on pot busts in the next six years, so the insanity apparently will continue unabated. And once a pot smoker is incarcerated, it costs taxpayers $95 a day on average to jail each pitiful prisoner, taking up space that should be occupied by violent offenders – or better yet, Wall Street bankers.
"Black and White" also offers solutions – albeit those we've heard before – such as recommending that recreational pot be legalized for all those age 21 and older via a system of taxation, licensing, and regulation. Failing that, pot decrim should be enacted so that there are no criminal charges for mere possession; and until legalization/decrim can be established, cops should de-prioritize marijuana enforcement, with the ultimate aim being the elimination of all possession arrests.
Sounds like a pipe dream, but one worth fighting for.