In Report Highlighting Racial Disparities Among Marijuana Arrests, No State Looks Worse than Texas
The ACLU report highlighted the life of Nick Smith, a 31-year-old out of Austin, whose marijuana arrest cost him $10,000, three months in prison, and his job.
In one of the largest reports surveying the current state of marijuana enforcement in the nation, the ACLU released a 183-page text on Thursday examining the racial disparities among marijuana-related arrests across America. While the report is a damning look at the failure of the War on Marijuana, and the War on Drugs as a whole, it seems that no state comes out looking worse than Texas.
Indeed, the data from the report was so scathing that it prompted the ACLU of Texas to send letters to 12 different counties in the state, "demand[ing] changes in law enforcement policies and practices."
According to the ACLU's report, Texas not only carries the second-highest number of marijuana-related arrests in the nation -- with possession-related crimes representing 53.5 percent of all drug-related arrests in the state -- it wastes over $250 million in continuing the misguided and wholly ineffectual War on Marijuana.
Despite representing only 12.2 percent of the population, blacks were targeted in over 25 percent of marijuana-possession arrests in Texas. According to the ACLU, such a clip means that blacks in Texas are 2.3 times more likely than whites to be arrested for pot possession -- despite smoking at the same rates as whites. As the report related, "Just as with the larger drug war, the War on Marijuana has, quite simply, served as a vehicle for police to target communities of color."
"The report by the ACLU shows that racism remains alive, well and entrenched in Texas," Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas, noted in the release. "This data is clear evidence that police target blacks for marijuana use. And nowhere in Texas is this practice as prevalent as in a corridor stretching from Houston, up through East Texas, into the Dallas-Fort Worth area."
The stretch Burke sited boasts a pair of counties that land within the top five for racial disparities in marijuana arrest rates. Cooke County, north of Dallas, sees nearly 25 times more blacks arrested than whites for marijuana, good for fourth in the nation. Van Zandt County, meanwhile, sees 34.1 times as many blacks arrested for marijuana violations as whites -- the highest such rate in the nation.
Both Van Zandt and Cooke -- along with Chambers, Kleberg and Hopkins -- also landed within the top 15 counties nationally for overall arrest rates for marijuana possession among blacks.
"Those numbers really jumped out at us -- that swath of East Texas, some of the areas of which are very populous," Rebecca L. Robertson, legal and policy director at the ACLU of Texas, told Hair Balls. "We now have to figure out what is driving these outrageous disparities. Is it racial profiling? Overaggressive enforcement? We know that blacks use marijuana at the same rate as whites...which is why the disparities are so jaw-dropping."
Calls to officials in both Van Zandt and Cooke counties were not returned.
Lest Texans think this racial phenomenon is localized among the more rural areas in the state, the ACLU also points out that "Harris County ranks fourth in the nation for number of blacks arrested for marijuana possession." With approximately three times as many blacks as whites arrested for marijuana possession in the county -- not quite Van Zandt or Cooke County numbers, but damning nonetheless -- thousands more blacks than whites have been arrested for a crime that both demographics each commit at equal rates.
Likewise, arrest rates in Texas have grown substantially over the previous decade -- but only among blacks. While only 30 more whites were arrested for marijuana possession in 2010 than in 2001, nearly 200 more blacks were arrested in that same time frame.
And it may be even worse than the numbers make it seem. Although Texas's overall racial disparity arrest rate doesn't fall among the worst in the nation -- blacks are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for pot possession nationally -- Robertson qualified the data.
"Texas looks like it's below the national average, but there's an interesting glitch in the data," Robertson said, noting that the statistics came from FBI reporting. "The FBI doesn't count Latinos separately from whites, so if we could back Latinos out of the white arrest rate, I'd bet the disparity is even worse."
Here's the full text of the ACLU's report:
Here's the ACLU's compilation of Texas highlights:
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.
- State Charges Forward With Licensing Immigration Lockups as Childcare Facilities
Fri., Feb. 19, 8:00pm
Sat., Feb. 20, 1:00pm
Sat., Feb. 20, 7:00pm
Sun., Feb. 21, 6:00pm
- Man Jumps Into Buffalo Bayou Downtown, Feared Dead
- Wanna Make Sure You're Never in a Ted Cruz Ad? Take Off Your Clothes