ACLU Report: Time to Legalize It

Pot policing discriminatory and expensive

ACLU Report: Time to Legalize It

From 2001-2010, a record 8 million people were arrested on marijuana charges, 88% for possession only, with blacks arrested far more often than are whites – in Texas, as much as 34-times more likely to face arrest than whites – according to a new report from the ACLU that concludes that marijuana should be legalized, taxed, and regulated.

In 2010 alone, 750,000 arrests – nearly half of the 1.7 million drug arrests nationwide – were pot related. That's one arrest every 37 seconds, according to the report released this week.

The report tracks the unprecedented growth since the Seventies of pot policing, as well as its disparate impact on minorities. The report concludes that pot should be legalized for adults over 21 and that all arrests for pot possession should end. "Legalization is the smartest and surest way to end targeted enforcement of marijuana laws in communities of color, and, moreover, would eliminate the costs of such enforcement while generating revenue for cash-strapped states," reads the report.

After 40 years – and more than 40 million arrests total – pot-law enforcement has cost the U.S. more than $1 trillion; in just 2010, prohibition enforcement cost the U.S. – 50 states plus the District of Columbia – $3.6 billion, according to the report. That same year in Texas pot policing costs $126 million, while judicial/legal costs totaled $85 million and correctional costs totaled $40 million.

And these arrests – and associated costs – are felt even more strongly in minority communities: although blacks and whites use pot at roughly the same rate, across the country blacks are, on average, nearly four times as likely to be arrested on pot charges than are their white counterparts. In Texas there are a handful of hotspots of disparate treatment that rank among the nation's worst: In Van Zandt County, for example, blacks are 34-times more likely to arrested; in Cooke County they're 25-times more likely to be arrested.

Indeed, with more than 74,000 arrests, Texas ranked number two for pot arrests in 2010 – behind New York, which saw more than 103,000, but well ahead of Florida (nearly 58,000), California (more than 57,000), and Illinois (with nearly 50,000). Harris County was ranked number five county in the nation, while Bexar clocked in at number 10, and Dallas rounded out the tops list at number 25. Notably, neither Travis County nor the city of Austin made any of the report's lists.

"Marijuana prohibition is taking a toll on the entire country, but Texas is among the states paying the biggest price," Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a press release. "Law enforcement resources would be better spent addressing serious crimes instead of arresting adults for using a substances objectively less harmful than alcohol."

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