Marijuana Law Enforcement Disproportionately Targets Blacks, Latinos in California

Marijuana Law Enforcement Disproportionately Targets Blacks, Latinos in California

African-Americans and Latinos use marijuana at lower rates than whites, yet they are prosecuted for minor cannabis possession offenses in California’s largest cities at rates two to twelve times higher than Caucasians, according to a pair of just-released reports commissioned by The Drug Policy Alliance, the California NAACP and the William C. Velasquez Institute.

From 2006 to 2008, African Americans were arrested for marijuana possession offenses in California’s 25 largest cities at four, five, six, seven and even twelve times the rate of whites, the report found.

Among some of the California cities profiled:

  • The City of Los Angeles, with ten percent of California’s population, arrested blacks for marijuana possession at seven times the rate of whites.

San Diego, the second-largest city in California, arrested blacks for marijuana possession at nearly six times the rate of whites.

  • In Pasadena, blacks are 11 percent of the population but make up 49 percent of people arrested for marijuana possession. Pasadena arrested blacks at twelve and a half times the rate of whites.
  • In Sacramento, the state capitol, blacks are 14 percent of the city’s population but make up more than 51 percent of all the people arrested for possessing marijuana.
  • San Jose, the third-largest city in California, is only 2.9 percent African-American, but San Jose arrested blacks for marijuana possession at more than five times the rate of whites. San Jose arrested 619 blacks per 100,000 blacks compared to 121 whites per 100,000 whites.
  • The City of Torrance, with a population of 140,000, had the highest racial disparity of the 25 cities. Blacks are only 2 percent of the population but they made up almost 24 percent of the people arrested for marijuana possession. Torrance arrested blacks at over thirteen times the rate for whites.

From 2006 to 2008, Latinos were arrested for marijuana possession offenses in California’s 33 largest cities at “double to nearly triple” the rates of whites.

  • The City of Los Angeles arrested Latinos for marijuana possession at twice the rate of whites.
  • In San Jose, Latinos are 31 percent of the population but 54 percent of those arrested for marijuana possession. Police in San Jose arrested Latinos at 2.2 times the rate of whites.
  • In Glendale, Latinos are 17.4 percent of the population of almost 200,000, but make up 30 percent of those arrested for marijuana possession. Glendale police arrested Latinos at a rate of 981 per 100,000 — the highest arrest rate for Latinos for any of the 33 cities profiled.

“These racially biased marijuana arrests were a system-wide phenomenon, occurring in every county and nearly every police department in California,” the report’s authors state.

From 1990 through 2009, police departments in California made 850,000 criminal prosecutions for possessing small amounts of marijuana and half a million marijuana possession prosecutions in the last ten years, the report found.

In conjunction with the release of the reports, members of the 10,000-member National Latino Officers Association publicly announced their support for Proposition 19, California’s ballot measure to regulate the adult, non-medical use and possession of marijuana.

“The National Latino Officers Association is proud to endorse Proposition 19,” NLOA spokesperson Manuel Rodriguez told reporters at a press conference Wednesday.

The NLOA joins a broad range of leading criminal justice, civil rights and religious organizations in favor of Prop. 19. These include the National Black Police Association, the California Council of Churches IMPACT, the California National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the California League of United Latin American Citizens, the Latino Voters League, the Progressive Jewish Alliance and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), Western States Council.

Full text of both studies are available here and here.