Texas Puts a Lot of People in Jail for Weed, Especially Black and (Probably) Brown People

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The Sierra Blanca border patrol checkpoint is, at this point, the stuff of legend: If you're a musician and you pass through there, you're going to get popped for pot possession. You just are. Snoop Dogg, Fiona Apple, Willie Nelson -- all of them drove on Interstate 10, found themselves in that tiny West Texas border town and paid what we can safely dub the Dankness Tax: search, seizure, arrest, brief imprisonment, unflattering stripe-clad portrait.

But as the ACLU recently discovered, the war on pot doesn't limit itself to Sierra Blanca. It's more like the entire state of Texas. According to a new national report they've just released, we're near the top of the list on the numbers of people arrested for pot possession and the amount of money we spend to keep them locked up.

See also:
- Two Texas Lawmakers Have Filed Bills to Decriminalize Marijuana
- A Man Was Caught Trying to Smuggle 75 Pounds of Weed Through DFW Airport

Also, you're about twice as likely to be stopped, searched and arrested for pot possession if you're black in Texas. Except in rural areas, of course, where it's more like 20 times more likely. And Texas isn't even counting separately the number of Latinos arrested for pot possession, which the ACLU suspects is similarly high.

The ACLU looked at FBI stats and census data from 2001 to 2010 to compare the number of pot arrests with the racial demographics of all 50 states. They found 8 million pot arrests nationwide in that time period, 88 percent of which were for possession. Pot possession now accounts for nearly half of all drug arrests. In 2010, someone was arrested for pot every 37 seconds.

And although black Americans and white ones use marijuana at virtually identical rates, black people are nearly 4 times more likely to be arrested than whites nationwide. And even misdemeanor drug arrests can cost thousands of dollars in court costs, fines and probation fees, not to mention the permanent black mark on your record that pops up every time you need a loan, a job or public assistance, among many other things.

In 2010, the two states with the most pot arrests were New York and Texas; we arrested 74,286 that year alone. Texas has also had the greatest increase between 2001 and 2010 in the numbers of people arrested for pot: 20,681 more arrests in 2010. That year, the state paid about $20 million to keep those people locked up in state and county jail facilities.

In Texas, black people constitute only about 12 percent of the population, yet make up more than 25 percent of the pot arrests. You're 2.33 percent more likely to get arrested for potting it up while black in Texas, which is, surprisingly, a lot lower than several other states. In Iowa, for example, black individuals are eight times more likely to be arrested for pot possession. Same goes for D.C. (Incidentally, Hawaii and Alaska have the lowest rates of racial disparity for pot arrests.)

Yet the ACLU believes that Texas and several other states may be artificially decreasing their racial disparity arrest numbers by counting Latinos as white in the arrest data, rather than breaking them out into a separate category. They write that of the 10 states with the lowest racial disparity in arrests, seven of them have the highest Latino populations. In other words, they say:

In these states, a portion, if not a significant number, of marijuana possession arrests are of Latinos, but the FBI/UCR likely classifies them as "white" arrests, thereby reducing artificially the black-white arrest disparities to the extent that Latinos are arrested at higher rates than whites. That is, if many of those "white" arrests are actually arrests of Latinos, and if the Latino arrest rate is greater than the white arrest rate, the actual black-white arrest rates are much greater than the disparities contained in the present data. How much greater, unfortunately, cannot be ascertained from the present FBI/UCR data.

In Dallas County, just in case you're curious (or feeling a little paranoid), you're almost three times more likely to be arrested for potting up while black. That's nothing compared to Van Zandt County, though, where you'd be 34 times more likely to get popped, or Cooke County, where your chance is 24 times greater.

All told, the ACLU estimates that in 2010, Texas spent about $251,648,800 to enforce its marijuana possession laws. Nationwide, the ACLU concludes, the war on pot, like the larger war on drugs is "a failure" and comes at "a tremendous human and financial cost."

But only if you're concerned about things like human and financial costs. Otherwise we're doing just fine.



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80 comments
Obummer
Obummer

Yo let muh bros go; da just be ah unlicensed pharmacist.

buddaily
buddaily

This is just another reason why the only time I've ever been to Texas is once when I was forced to for a business meeting ! Although my brother & his family live in Sugarland I wouldn't waste my time or money in your right-wing,backward,inbred state ! In fact I wouldn't do business with any company located there if I had any choice & I do the purchasing for the corporation I'm employed by now!  Governor Rick Perry is a bumbling jackass & the perfect imbecile to represent typical Texas voters because as that great philosopher Kinky Friedman says - "you can lead a politician to water,but you can't make them think" !!! What else would one expect in a state where the belt buckles are three times larger than the penises of the clueless & ignorant goat ropers wearing them ?

Robert Jones
Robert Jones

no one dies from weed? ask that of the headless bodies and those kidnapped in Mexico never heard from again about that

Marvin Remmers
Marvin Remmers

So, black and brown people smoke weed too? I did not know that. You know, we could probably collect a lot of tax money, if we came up with something similar to red light cameras for weed smokers.

Alejandro Garcia
Alejandro Garcia

My cousin overdosed on weed. Don't smoke weed, it will kill you

Zak Dahlman
Zak Dahlman

Damn those law enforcement agents! How dare the arrest people for breaking the law!

David Hernandez Jr
David Hernandez Jr

I'm sure the numbers for Latinos (Mexicans) are higher than what is calculated because we do make up a large portion of the population. But it's nice that my state likes to not make us look too bad.

Kelly
Kelly

If it really is racist law enforcement going on here, why is it always some group of "bleeding heart" white people doing these racist drug law studies, or being quoted on them, instead of the NAACP?  

Studies show ACLU of Texas is mostly white people: http://www.aclutx.org/who-we-are/staff/senior-staff-biographies/#Terri

Dallas NAACP even has a "Civil Rights" agenda on their website and, oddly enough, the Dallas Observer did not even think to ask their opinion on this study:  http://www.naacpdallas.org/

Just sayin'.  This report would have more credibility if black people were asked about the supposedly racist marijuana law enforcement in their communities.



Greg
Greg

The screamingly obvious explanation is that more black and brown people are handling marijuana in places and situations where police are able to detect their doing so and respond.

If more blacks and browns bought and smoked their weed more privately the rates would be more equal.

But privacy is a monied privilege.

cyrrndr
cyrrndr

Well since pot is still illegal, I can't say as I care who or at what rate people get busted. Tough shit.

StupidHippies
StupidHippies

A lot of black and bown people commit murder in Texas. 

rzimmerman1
rzimmerman1

Articles like this always seem to make the assumption that minorities are targeted by racist white law enforcement officials. I don't know about you, but many of the officers I've encountered over the last few decades have been minorities. I recall coming home one day and startling a burglar in my garage. I called 911 and soon had a DPD car squeal to a halt in front of my house. The officers (black and hispanic) rolled down their window and asked what the suspect looked like. Before I could answer, the black officer shouted, "Was he a black guy?". I nodded yes and they took off after him.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

What do you expect from a state that at one time could, and would, impose a life term for simple possession.


There is also one item that is overlooked.  The police decide whom and for what they will make an arrest; and, the DA will decided whom and for what they will put someone on trial.  Additionally, do not forget the effect that federal grants for drug law enforcement have on arrest statistics.


" ... black people are nearly 4 percent more likely to be arrested than whites nationwide. ..."  A 4% difference may  be statistically insignificant.  The data would have to be analyzed to determine if a significant difference in mean arrest rates exist.

Rumpunch1
Rumpunch1

Screaming about arrest occurrence versus population ratios makes one huge assumption.  That assumption is that the offenses related to the arrests occurs evenly among the subpopulations.  In the Van Zandt example, one may see a 34 greater chance to get arrested, but someone else may see a 34 greater chance to commit the offense.

Also, when a population is smaller, any arrest creates disparity.  For example 100 people.  97 whites and 3 blacks.  5 whites and 1 black get arrested.  Therefore you have a 5% arrest rate for whites and a 33% arrest rate for blacks compared to the 97/3 allocation of total population. 

While the statistics require investigation to ensure that profiling has not occurred, it in itself is not proof rather just numbers.   Other factors such as income, age and education are better subpopulations rather than race.  I have always believed that people are more alike when compared on those categories more than race.  If an area's population is skewed on some of those categories as some rural communities are, then you will see disparity. (i.e. the majority of whites are over 65 versus all age groups in another race)   

Don't get me wrong, I do think our Country's pot laws are stupid. 

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