End Mass Criminalization of Black and Brown Youth

End Racism and Discrimination

Thursday, 19 November 2015 00:00

Virginia ramps up its war on pot — and the arrests show a disturbing racial divide

Written by Christopher Ingraham | The Washington Post

As states across the country are relaxing their marijuana laws and federal lawmakers consider doing the same, at least one state is bucking the trend and ramping up its war on pot. Marijuana arrests in Virginia have increased dramatically over the past decade, according to a new report from the Drug Policy Alliance, a group that advocates for drug policy reform. And black Virginians account for the overwhelming majority of this increase, causing the racial disparity in the state's marijuana arrests to widen.

"Marijuana possession arrests in Virginia increased from 13,032 in 2003 to 22,948 in 2014," or 76 percent, the report finds. By contrast, the number of marijuana possession arrests nationally decreased by 6.5 percent over the same period. And Virginia's increase in arrest rates is hitting black residents the hardest. In 2003, blacks were 2.4 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than white people. By 2013 this disparity widened, and blacks were 3.3 times more likely than whites to be arrested for pot.


Black and white Virginians use marijuana at similar rates. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, "over the extended period from 2002 to 2009, marijuana was used on an annual basis by 11.3 percent of black respondents in Virginia compared to 9.1 percent of white respondents." In other words, blacks were 24 percent more likely than whites to use marijuana, but an astonishing 233 percent more likely to be arrested for it.

In some Virginia cities, the disparity is much higher. In 2013, blacks were 5.1 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession in Norfolk. In Arlington, the black-to-white arrest ratio was 7.8.

Disparities like these have provided much of the momentum for marijuana reform in other localities, most notably DC's successful drive to legalize marijuana last year. Earlier this year, Virginia state senator Adam Ebbin introduced a bill to eliminate criminal penalties for marijuana possession. "The racial disparity in marijuana arrests in Virginia is deeply troubling, and the barriers that a criminal record brings are particularly worrisome," he said in a statement.

Recent polls show that a majority of Virginians would take Ebbin's bill one step further by legalizing marijuana completely. In April, a Quinnipiac poll found that 54 percent of Virginians support making marijuana legal. Nationwide, nearly 60 percent of Americans support legalization.

But despite this, the arrests rise and costs associated with them mount in Virginia. The ACLU conservatively estimates that Virginia spent $67 million on marijuana enforcement in 2010. That's a big chunk of change the state could be spending elsewhere, especially if you pair it with the potential for tens of millions of dollars in annual tax revenue from fully legal marijuana that states like Colorado are now bringing in.

Beyond that, the data show that all those expenditures on marijuana enforcement aren't doing anything to stem marijuana use rates in Virginia. In 2003, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 9.1 percent of Virginians said they used marijuana in the past year. By 2011, despite rising arrest rates, that number had increased slightly to 9.7 percent.

"These antiquated and extremely punitive laws, seemingly in a very targeted fashion, have served to devastate scores of individuals, families, neighborhoods, churches and houses of faith in too many of Virginia’s communities," said Jesse Frierson, executive director of the Virginia Alliance Against Mass Incarceration, in a statement on the report.

The Virginia Attorney General's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Link to original article from The Washington Post

Read 7414 times Last modified on Sunday, 29 November 2015 00:38

Latest Economic and Social Justice News

  • 1

Willie Nelson - Keeping the Postal Service Alive

Latest News

  • Repealing the Jim Crow law that keeps 1.5 million Floridians from voting. +

    Repealing the Jim Crow law that keeps 1.5 million Floridians from voting. A seismic political battle that could send shockwaves all the way to the White House was launched last week in Read More
  • Nuclear Weapons: Who Pays, Who Profits? +

    Nuclear Weapons: Who Pays, Who Profits? In an interview with Reuters conducted a month after he took office, Donald Trump asserted that the U.S. had “fallen Read More
  • Sessions issues sweeping new criminal charging policy +

    Sessions issues sweeping new criminal charging policy Attorney General Jeff Sessions overturned the sweeping criminal charging policy of former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. and directed Read More
  • Bush’s Iraq Lies, Uncontested, Will Haunt Us Under Trump +

    Bush’s Iraq Lies, Uncontested, Will Haunt Us Under Trump The CODEPINK Tribunal taking place December 1 and 2, and live streamed by The Real News, is a historic collection of testimonies about the lies Read More
  • The System IS Rigged!—The Electoral College and the 2016 Election +

    The System IS Rigged!—The Electoral College and the 2016 Election Donald Trump was right: the system is rigged! But it is rigged for the Republicans, not the Democrats, for conservatives, Read More
  • 1

Economic and Social Justice Calls

  • 5-4-2016 Economic and Social Justice Call
    The team explores the concept, economic theories and realities of achieving Full Employment in the current economy. Guests include Conor Williams, the secretary of the Transitional Jobs Collaborative in Milwaukee and Michael Darner, Executive Director of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
  • 02-03-2016 Economic & Social Justice
    Listen to this month's call led by Jim Carpenter as we discuss the state of our current economy, the impact of poor economic choices, and the other factors that play into the declining situation around the country, and in the world in this open and guided conversation.
  • 01-06-2016 Economic & Social Justice
    PDAction Board Member Donald Whitehead, and former Ex. Dir. of the Coalition for the Homeless leads the discussion on homelessness, with input from Joel Segal, PDAmerica founding member and National Director of the Justice Action Mobilization Network. Special focus is given to the housing crisis, the role of the banks, programs used by other countries to alleviate the problem, as well as the fact that women are the most adversely affected by this issue. H Con Res 98 - Resolve to Eliminate Homelessness - has been introduced in Congress by Rep. Alma Adams (NC-12) and is endorsed on this call.