Alabama Marijuana Possession Arrests Racially Skewed: Report

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Posted on Jul 23, 2013 12:59pm PDT

Our Birmingham marijuana possession defense lawyers have long recognized that prosecution on these types of crimes is considered to be a colossal waste of time.

Generally speaking, marijuana offenders are not violent and convictions do little to significantly deter crime to any great degree. All it tends to do is ensure that those convicted will be plagued with a criminal record that will make it tougher to land a job later on down the line.

Possession of marijuana for personal use in Alabama is considered a Class A misdemeanor, meaning it's punishable by up to one year in jail. A second or subsequent offense may be charged as a Class C felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Now, a new report released by the American Civil Liberties Union not only underscores these points, it reveals that stark extent to which racial disparities exist in this realm, not just in Alabama but across the country.

The ACLU's analysis of federal data showed that blacks were nearly four times as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana crimes nationwide. In some counties, the arrest rate was 10 to 30 times greater for blacks than whites. There were two counties in Alabama where blacks made up 100 percent of those arrested for marijuana.

These figures are despite the fact that research by the National Drug Health Survey last year showed that marijuana use was comparable for both races, with about 14 percent of blacks reporting marijuana use compared to 12 percent of whites. In fact, among those in the 18-to-25-year-old range, whites actually had higher reports of marijuana use.

Although Alabama fell in line with these figures, the states with the greatest racial disparities were Iowa (blacks were 8.34 times more likely to be arrested than whites), Washington D.C. (8.05 times greater) and Minnesota (7.81 times greater).

The ACLU's report found that between 2001 and 2010, there were approximately 8 million marijuana arrests made across the country. Of those, nearly 90 percent were for possession. The number of marijuana arrests has risen sharply during that time frame, and accounts for more than half of all total drug arrests. This is despite the fact that we now have 17 states plus the District of Columbia, where the drug is legal for medicinal purposes and two states where it is legal for recreational purposes.

Additionally, public opinion supportive of marijuana for medicinal purposes has shot up to nearly 75 percent.

(Alabama House Bill 550, introduced in April, would have legalized the drug for recreational purposes, but that measure unsurprisingly died in committee.)

While crack cocaine and heroin were regularly targeted in the 1980s and early 1990s, the shift by law enforcement agencies has markedly become more focused on an easier target: marijuana. Even when overall drug arrests began to see a drop-off in 2006, marijuana offenses continued to rise.

In 2010, there were an estimated 20,000 people incarcerated in the U.S. solely on a charge of marijuana possession.

In many ways, this war on marijuana has morphed into a war on the black community. As of 2010, the nationwide marijuana possession arrest rate for a black person in this country was 716 per 100,000 people. Compare that to a white persons chances of being arrested for the same crime, which was 192 per 100,000.

Even more troubling? That disparity has increased by nearly a third since 2001.

All told, states spent more than $3.6 billion on marijuana enforcement just in 2010. If marijuana were regulated and distributed the same way we do for alcohol, that is money that could be channeled into our struggling schools, police departments, cities and counties. (Jefferson County residents would know the value of this more than most, as county leaders recently filed for bankruptcy.)

An arrest for marijuana possession not only has the immediate consequences of potential jail time and fines. It can affect a person's eligibility for student financial aid, public housing, child custody determinations, immigration status considerations and employment opportunities.

As such, it's important to take these arrests seriously, even if they are considered "minor." Call us today to see how we can help.

If you have been arrested for a drug crime in Birmingham, contact Birmingham Drug Crime Defense Attorney Steven Eversole at (866) 831-5292.

We serve the following localities:

Birmingham, Jefferson County including Bessemer, Homewood, Hoover, Irondale, Leeds, Mountain Brook, Trussville, and Vestavia Hills, Shelby County (including Pelham, Alabaster, Chelsea, Calera), Tuscaloosa, Auburn, Huntsville, Calhoun County including Anniston, Etowah County including Boaz and Gadsden, Cullman County including Arab and Cullman, Madison County including Huntsville and Madison, Montgomery County including Montgomery, and all of Alabama.

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