Before pot was legalized, blacks were 7 times more likely to face weed arrests than whites in Illinois, report finds

A new report released Monday by the American Civil Liberties Union found that the state had the third largest racial disparities in weed arrests in the nation.

SHARE Before pot was legalized, blacks were 7 times more likely to face weed arrests than whites in Illinois, report finds
Marijuana plants at a home in Honolulu in 2016. (AP Photo/Marina Riker, File)

Five Illinois counties — Tazewell, Ogle, Henry, Peoria and Adams — were ranked among the top 20 counties for racial disparities in cannabis arrests, according to an ACLU report.

AP file photo/Marina Riker

Even as total arrests for weed possession in Illinois plummeted over the past decade, black residents were seven times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession in 2018, according to a new report released Monday.

The report from the American Civil Liberties Union, which examines nationwide cannabis arrests between 2010 and 2018, found that Illinois had the third largest racial disparities in possession arrests in 2018, the most recent recent year comparable data was available. Illinois’ rate trailed only Montana and Kentucky.

Five Illinois counties — Tazewell, Ogle, Henry, Peoria and Adams — were ranked among the top 20 counties for racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests that year, the report shows. In Tazewell County, near Peoria, black people were 43 times more likely to be taken into custody for simply having pot. The report does not give specific details on Cook County.

“The legacy of rank bias in how we enforced cannabis laws in Illinois is clear,” said Ben Ruddell, criminal justice policy director for the ACLU of Illinois. “We should redouble our efforts to ensure that this sort of racially disproportionate policing does not continue under the new state law, especially in those parts of the state where the track record is so abysmal.”

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ACLU

Overall, the number of blacks arrested for pot possession dropped from 448 per 1,000 people in 2010 to 138 per 1,000 in 2018, a period in which marijuana was decriminalized and also legalized for medical use.

But the arrest rate for whites dropped even more, from 130 arrests per 1,000 people to 18, leading the racial disparities to more than double in that time, from 3.4 times higher to 7.5 times higher.

Earlier this year, Illinois’ prohibition on recreational pot was ultimately lifted completely by legislation that aims to address the harms of the drug war by expunging marijuana convictions and giving people of color a leg-up in the application process for licenses, among other measures. The ACLU urges states to pursue future legislation with similar considerations for racial and criminal justice.

State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a Chicago Democrat who has helped lead the state’s marijuana reform effort, said the legislation she co-sponsored specifically sought to “address racial disparities in the way cannabis laws were enforced.”

“This data shows how badly we needed to take that step. But our work is not done,” Cassidy said. “We need to ensure that laws around cannabis or other drugs are not enforced with this same sort of bias.”

The ACLU said there were fewer weed arrests in states that have legalized or decriminalized the drug, though the impact varies based on the jurisdiction. While there’s been a clear drop in arrests since Maine legalized cannabis, arrests in California went unchanged or continued on an existing downward trend.

Data on marijuana arrests in Illinois since legalization Jan. 1 was not included in the ACLU report.

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