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It’s Not Just New York City — Marijuana Arrests Disproportionately Black In Many US Cities



While much has been made of New York City’s racially-disproportionate arrests of African-Americans for marijuana, the fact is that most large American cities suffer the same racist effect of our marijuana prohibition policies.

The Russ Belville Show analyzed census data and recent media reports on the arrests of African-Americans for marijuana possession and found that in at least eleven of the top 25 US cities by population, the percentage of marijuana arrests of blacks are 38% to over eight times greater than the percentage of black population in those cities. US surveys show that under age 25, whites are more likely to smoke marijuana, while over age 25, blacks are more likely to; however, three out of four marijuana arrests are for people under age 30 and over a third of those adults who use marijuana are aged 18-25.

The greatest racial disparity to be found among the Top 25 cities was in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where just 7% of the population is black, but black people make up about 60% of the arrests for marijuana. According to research by Jon Gettman, Ph.D., “[b]lacks account for 12% of the population, 14% of annual marijuana users, and 31% of marijuana possession arrests” nationwide. Research also shows that same sort of gross racial disproportionality in the top 25 cities in California.

This post originally appeared on RadicalRuss.com and was republished with special permission.


About Author

Executive Director: Russ Belville has been active in Oregon marijuana reform since 2005, when he was elected second-in-command of the state affiliate, Oregon NORML. After four years with Oregon NORML, Russ was hired by National NORML in 2009, working as Outreach Coordinator and hosting the NORML Daily Audio Stash podcast until 2012. Since then, Russ launched the 420RADIO marijuana legalization network and is the host of The Russ Belville Show, a live daily marijuana news talk radio program. Russ is also a prolific writer, with over 300 articles posted online and in print in HIGH TIMES, Huffington Post, Alternet, The Weed Blog, Marijuana Politics, and more.


  1. The Russ Belville Show analyzed census data and recent media “reports on the arrests of African-Americans for marijuana possession “

  2. They were not “smoking” they were “in possession” In NY the “stop n frisk” is more of random stop allegedly .
    if they were not smoking and police frisk them it is based on something not random and it shows.

  3. The big point being missed here is the fact that everyone of these people arrested for cannabis possession is now in the system. (database)
    finger prints ,DNA all used for criminal prosecutions.
    most of these people do not have any involvement with “crime” and are not criminals
    But archaic cannabis prohibitions have created a police state.
    Police can say ” I smelled marijuana” at this point you have become a “second class” citizen and police feel you have no rights. and that is all it takes to strip any person of the constitutional rights to privacy , search/seizure.
    Welcome to the NEW WORLD ORDER!

    The War on “drugs” is a war on the people. when society views drug use as a crime criminals are created. Drug use/abuse is not being “eradicated” in the US prison system. DUH
    Drug addiction is a mental health issue , it becomes criminal when there is no treatment.
    “prisons 4 profit ” is a strain on the American legal system and racial profiling is only comparable to “slavery”

  4. The method of the police is to profile many people and stop them on the pretext they might have drugs. The people they feel have drugs most of the time are minorities. For every 7 stops, only one has drugs. We have this image of the dangerous criminal black man even when most aren’t. They criminalize a whole culture based on what some are doing.

  5. What about all the white drug dealers? They aren’t targeted while driving or walking down the street. The users get arrested and they are profiled based on the image the media makes us believe who the criminal is. The people using drugs at the highest rate are white youth and white professionals. And if you believe that the dealers are the criminals then why are most of the people arrested for drugs are for simple possession? The media is a powerful weapon that makes us decide who we are and who other people are.

  6. blacks portray themselves this way. u have got to be joking TS. most black dealers i know are in it for the PROFIT not to just smoke for free. and that makes it criminal

  7. morecarefulthanu on

    what?!?!???!?! u are the one that is denying whats really going on,yes its been my experience that white people are waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay more careful about hiding illegal things and we get called pussy for it but guess what, ill be a pussy without a record, thx

  8. Oh yeah, and white teenagers are sooooo careful. Careful enough so they don’t get caught smoking herb at far greater rates while millions of black teens doing the same thing are arrested? Are you that naive to think it’s really just a matter of every single young white pothead being more careful than their PoC peers? Think a little, man.

  9. I’m from the not so great state of Minnesota where we now hold the distinction of arresting the highest percentage of our population of any state in the nation. We are now arresting and persecuting 9 times as many Blacks and Native Americans as whites based on population. Being from the state with the second highest arrest rate, Proffesor Angela Davis of the California College system explains very well how the money we use to spend on education has drifted over to the “Prison Industrial Complex” and how this has undermined our entire society. Michelle Alexander in her new book, “The New Jim Crow” tags this for the RACISM it is. We have a President who has done nothing to help his people escape this institutional Racism, people we have the ammunition to fight this war if we are aggresive in our actions.

  10. It is because of the media. In all wars there are designated targets and the drug war’s targets are young minorities, especially blacks. The TV always portrays blacks as criminals.

  11. sickofthisstat on

    why is this? many times the guys ive smoked with dont care if they get caught or take any steps to avoid it, therefore you have these numbers. have you ever smoked with a black teenager russ? i have and they dont give a F^%$

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