A Tale of Two Countries: Racially Targeted Arrests in the Era of Marijuana Reform Details Millions of Racially Targeted Marijuana Arrests Made Between 2010-2018


St. Louis – Today the American Civil Liberties Union released a new report that showed Black people are 2.6 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession in Missouri, despite comparable national marijuana usage rates. Nationally, Blacks were 3.64 times more likely to be arrested than whites. Although the total number of people arrested for marijuana possession has decreased in the past decade, nationally, law enforcement still made 6.1 million such arrests over that period, and the racial disparities in arrest rates remain in every state. In Missouri, over 50 percent of all drug arrests were for possession of marijuana.

The report, A Tale of Two Countries: Racially Targeted Arrests in the Era of Marijuana Reform, details marijuana possession arrests from 2010 to 2018 and updates our unprecedented national report published in 2013, The War on Marijuana in Black and White. The disturbing findings of this new research show that despite Missouri having reformed marijuana policy over the last decade, far too much has remained unchanged when it comes to racial disparities in arrests. Key findings include:

Across the U.S., law enforcement made more than 6.1 million marijuana-related arrests from 2010 to2018. In Missouri alone, there were almost 21,000 marijuana arrests in 2018, the vast majority of which were for possession.

In 2018, marijuana possession arrests accounted for 50 percent of all drug arrests in Missouri.

Missouri had the 11th highest marijuana possession arrest rate in the nation. 

Nationally, in 2018, law enforcement made more marijuana arrests than for all violent crimes combined. Despite legalization in a number of states, it is not clear that marijuana arrests are trending downward nationally. National arrest rates have actually risen in the past few years, with almost 100,000 more arrests in 2018 than 2015.

Despite Missouri making modest decriminalization efforts in 2014, people in Missouri are still arrested for marijuana possession and Black people are still disproportionately arrested. A Black person in Missouri is 2.6 times more likely to be arrested marijuana possession than a white person. Missouri ranks 18th in the nation for the largest racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests.

These racial disparities have not improved between 2010 and 2018. Although the overwhelming majority of Missouri counties have racial disparities, Johnson, Lafayette, Lincoln have the largest disparities in marijuana arrests. In those counties, Black people are over ten times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people. Nationally, a Black person is 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, even though Black and white people use marijuana at similar rates.

A Tale of Two Countries: Racially Targeted Arrests in the Era of Marijuana Reform comes at a time when the criminal legal system is overwhelmed by the COVID-19 public health crisis that demands expedited decarcercal action to safeguard the lives of those incarcerated in and employed by jails and prisons. The reforms recommended in this report provide a road map for reducing marijuana arrests and criminalization as governors, prosecutors, judges, and other stakeholders across the country grapple with the harms presented by the public health crisis and take steps to release people from jails and prisons.

 Missouri continues to vigorously enforce marijuana laws, which disproportionately target Black communities and entangle hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal legal system every year at a tremendous cost,” says Sara Baker, Policy Director of the ACLU of Missouri “As a matter of racial justice, every state in the country must decriminalize marijuana with racial equity at the foundation of such reform.”

Nationally, to combat the racial disparities rampant in marijuana-related arrests, the ACLU is calling not only for an end to racialized policing but also for full legalization of marijuana use and possession and specific measures to ensure legalization efforts are grounded in racial justice.


The full report is available here. https://www.aclu.org/report/tale-two-countries-racially- targeted-arrests-era-marijuana-reform

State-level data is available here. https://graphics.aclu.org/marijuana-arrest-report/MO