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Study finds 'staggering' racial bias in marijuana enforcement

Researchers say that both nationwide and in Texas, arrests for marijuana possession show enforcement disparities along racial lines.

Audio transcript:

Haslett: A recent report found that nationally, a black person is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person. In Texas, the disparity is a bit lower, with African-Americans being 2.3 times more likely than their white counterparts to have a marijuana possession arrest. Researchers say that both nationwide and in Texas, the arrest numbers don’t match up with the numbers of people from each ethnic group who use marijuana.

Pinon: Studies have shown that black and white individuals use marijuana at comparable rates, and in the same year where studies have shown that the usage rates among blacks and whites was comparable, the arrest rates weren't. So if marijuana possession were being enforced neutrally, one would expect the arrests at roughly the same percentage as usage. But what we see is a much higher likelihood that a black person will be arrested, even though blacks and white use marijuana at the same rate.

Haslett: That’s Adriana Pinon of the Texas office of the American Civil Liberties Union, which authored the report about arrest rates for marijuana possession. The study broke down the data by county – and some Northeast Texas counties showed a greater disparity in enforcement than others.

In fact, one Northeast Texas county had the greatest disparity in the state. Based on 2010 data, Van Zandt County showed blacks 34 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites. Hopkins County had the fourth greatest racial disparityin the state, with an eight percent differential. Delta, Franklin, Lamar and Rockwall counties all had disparities higher than the national average of 3.73.

However, quite a few Texas counties came in with racial discrepancies in marijuana possession enforcement lower than the national average. In the KETR listening area, Collin, Fannin, Hunt, Kaufman, Rains and Wood counties all showed disparities in enforcement below the national average in 2010. For KETR News, I’m Mark Haslett.