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Racial disparities in marijuana arrests in New York

Individuals who possess and use marijuana in New York face the risk of being arrested for possession of illegal drugs. However, a new federal report found that black people are much more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession compared to whites.

The report reviewed police records of marijuana arrests in all 50 states and found that every state appears to be racially biased when investigating and arresting individuals for marijuana possession. The report said that blacks are at least twice as likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana compared to their white neighbors.

The report found that over the past decade, New York and other states increased their drug enforcement policies as well as their budgets to crackdown on illegal drug use. At the same time, many of these states faced budget shortfalls and took steps to reduce their prison populations by reducing prison sentences or mandating treatment for other nonviolent offenses.

Since New York and other states increased their drug enforcement programs, it makes sense that drug arrests would increase. However, many people are wondering why marijuana arrests have increased so much during the last decade and why African Americans have a higher rate of marijuana possession arrests than white residents.

Researchers said that the racial disparity in marijuana arrests could be due to old drug policies used by police, including the practice of racial profiling programs that create an incentive for law enforcement agencies to continue targeting certain racial minority groups for specific offenses like marijuana possession.

The report cited a professor at the University of California who said that police departments often try to increase their drug arrest statistics and to help increase the number of arrests, they focus on neighborhoods with lower incomes or with minorities to help meet those goals because it is easier to focus on low-level drug offenders than to try and investigate more serious, felony crimes.

The report concluded that whenever law enforcement agencies try to meet arrest goals instead of public safety goals, racial profiling and other policies based on stereotypes often increase and lead to racial disparities in drug arrests across the county.

Source: New York Times, "Blacks Are Singled Out for Marijuana Arrests, Federal Data Shows," Ian Urbina, June 3, 2013

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