ACLU’s Ezekiel Edwards: Scrapping Marijuana Laws the Way to Fix Racial Arrest Disparity

The results from the ACLU’s report saying that African-Americans are much more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession surprised the authors. 

They figured that a disparity would exist in the findings. And they were right. What they didn’t expect to find is that the disparity existed across the country in many types of community—urban and rural areas, places with large and small African-American populations.

Ezekiel Edwards, one of the report’s authors and director of the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project, argues that the study is an indictment on the so-called War on Drugs. In essence, he calls it a waste of money (Kentucky spent $19.5 million in 2010 on marijuana enforcement alone) that has drastically increased arrests but done little to stop actual drug use.

“It’s a substantial part of the war on drugs,” Edwards said.

Edwards spoke with me this week about the report and what it means for Kentucky.

Here’s a little of what he said:

On Surprising Results

“We expected maybe to find some disparity in dense large urban areas with large black populations, where people know that police focus more frequently. But we found it actually in rural counties—we found it where blacks were only 2 percent of the population.”

On Why the Disparity

“I also think that police departments still have a problem with racial profiling. This is something that’s been raised over the years, but I think there are communities and there are people who are much more likely to get stopped, frisked and searched based on where they are and what they look like than other people.”

“The fact is if you’re a black person carrying marijuana or using marijuana, you’re much more likely to get arrested than if you’re a white person.”

His Argument for Reform

“It seems like a costly way to deal with drug policy. You know, we regulate other dangerous substances like alcohol, very addictive substances like nicotine, and we tax it. And that’s a better way to deal with it. If people get addicts—or are alcoholics—we deal with it as a public health issue, we don’t criminalize those people.”

You can listen to the interview below:

And read the report here.

Joseph Lord

Joseph Lord is the online managing editor for WFPL.

@joseph_Lord

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