Does Race Really Influence Marijuana Busts?
NEW YORK ( MainStreet) When President Barack Obama gave his recent New Yorker interview in which he made the claim that "Middle-class kids don't get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do," he invoked the idea that race played a role in which people were busted.
African-American leaders have made this claim for years. They say that the criminal justice system is racist and therefore marijuana laws should be eliminated or changed in some way.
But Obama's claim could neither be substantiated by the White House press office nor the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics. Indeed, it does not appear to hold water. Data indicates that middle-class kids are locked up for pot smoking.
According to the FBI, in 2012, 42% of drug abuse violation arrests were for marijuana possession; 48,389 suburbanites, younger than 18, were arrested for drug abuse violations; 73% of suburbanites arrested for drug violations were white. This amounts to white suburban kids being arrested for marijuana possession, contrary to Obama's allegation.
Now it is true that African-Americans are disproportionately arrested for pot possession. But a 2006 Rand study cast doubt on the accusation that racism is the cause. Instead the study provides a rival hypothesis as to why blacks are arrested more. The study, "Racial Differences in Marijuana-Users' Risk of Arrest in the United States" was conducted by Rajeev Ramchand, Rosalie Liccardo Pacula, and Martin Y. Iguchi. Ramchand is a Behavioral Scientist at the RAND Corporation, Pacula is director of the Bing Center for Health Economics and co director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center and Iguchi is the dean of Georgetown University School of Nursing & Health Studies.
They said arrest data indicated that African-Americans are 2.5 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, despite the fact that estimates say they are no more likely to be users. The researchers wanted to evaluate whether there were differences in buying patterns among ethnic and racial groups. So they looked into the purchase patterns of marijuana users from the 2002 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).
They determined that, generally speaking, people bought pot "in private settings and from someone they know." But their research indicated that "African-Americans are statistically more likely to engage in risky purchasing behaviors that increase their likelihood of arrest."
According to the monograph, "African Americans are nearly twice as likely to buy outdoors, three times more likely to buy from a stranger, and significantly more likely to buy away from their homes. These results provide an additional explanation for the differential in arrest rates between African-Americans and Whites."
This certainly contradicts the allegations made by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) which claims, unqualifiedly, in a report they published in June 2013 that there is a "staggering racial bias" in marijuana enforcement. They say that "marijuana use is roughly equal among Blacks and whites, yet Blacks are 3.73 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession" (a slightly different figure from the Rand study).