“You want to know what this was really all about?” he asked with the bluntness of a man who, after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little left to protect. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” — John Ehrlichman, Richard Nixon’s domestic policy advisor
Racial disparity in Marijuana Arrests
NORML reports that African Americans are arrested for violating marijuana possession laws at nearly four times the rates of whites, yet both ethnicities consume marijuana at roughly the same rates.
- A 2022 analysis of marijuana possession arrests in Texas for the years 2017 to 2019 reported that African Americans comprised 30.2 percent of all possession arrests, yet Black people comprised only 12.9 percent of the state’s population.Texas NORML Marijuana Possession Arrest Report, 2017-2021, 2022
- A 2021 analysis of marijuana-related arrests in 2020 in New York City’s five boroughs reported that people of color comprised 94 percent of those arrested.AMNY.com, People of color made up 94 percent of marijuana arrests by NYPD in 2020, data from Legal Aid says, 2021
- A 2021 analysis from the Milwaukee County, Wisconsin District Attorney’s Office reported that Black Wisconsinites were 4.3 times more likely than their white counterparts to be convicted for having marijuana. The worst disparities in Wisconsin are in Ozaukee County, where Black people are 34.9 times more likely to be arrested and Manitowoc County, where Black people are 29.9 times more likely to be arrested.”Wisconsin Public Radio, Report: Black Wisconsinites 4.3 Times More Likely To Be Convicted For Possession Of Marijuana, 2021
- A 2020 analysis by the American Civil Liberties Union, concluded, “Black people are 3.64 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession, notwithstanding comparable usage rates.” Authors reported, “In every single state, Black people were more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, and in some states, Black people were up to six, eight, or almost ten times more likely to be arrested. In 31 states, racial disparities were actually larger in 2018 than they were in 2010.”American Civil Liberties Union, A Tale of Two Countries: Racially Targeted Arrests in the Era of Marijuana Reform, 2020