Marijuana has become the drug of choice for police departments nationwide — a trend that is playing out with serious consequences here in Brown County.
According to a new report released Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union, police have turned much of their zeal for fighting the failed War on Drugs toward the enforcement of marijuana laws in communities across Wisconsin and the country.
In 2010, cops in Wisconsin busted someone for having marijuana once every 28 minutes. The majority of these arrests are happening in communities of color. Despite roughly comparable usage rates, blacks in Wisconsin are nearly six times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession.
These racial disparities are particularly bad in Brown County. Compared to other Wisconsin counties with more than 300,000 residents, in 2010 Brown had the third-highest rate of racial disparity for marijuana possession arrests.
Black people in Brown County are more than seven times more likely than whites to be arrested for the same offense — even though blacks constitute only 2.2 percent of Brown County’s population.
And across Wisconsin, these disparities are only getting worse. Between 2001 and 2010, racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests soared more than 150 percent. Only two other states in the nation had higher increases during this period.
The aggressive enforcement of marijuana possession laws in Wisconsin needlessly ensnares thousands of people in the criminal justice system, crowds our jails, diverts precious police resources away from focusing on serious crimes, and wastes millions of taxpayer dollars. In 2010 alone, Wisconsin blew as much as $73.1 million enforcing marijuana laws.
Legalizing, taxing and regulating marijuana in Wisconsin would end racially biased enforcement. Taxing and regulating marijuana would also save millions of dollars currently spent on enforcement while raising millions more in revenue, which could be invested in community and public health programs, including drug treatment.
Barring legalization, state legislators should work with law enforcement to de-penalize marijuana possession by removing all civil and criminal penalties. Low-level marijuana possession should be decriminalized to a civil offense, and prosecutors should focus on more serious offenses.
Brown County police departments can take action by reforming policing practices, including ending racial profiling, unconstitutional stops, frisks, searches, and programs that create incentives for officers to make low-level drug arrests.
This is an issue of racial justice, fiscal responsibility and common sense. What’s happening in Brown County, all over Wisconsin and across the nation proves that it’s time to end the failed War on Marijuana.
Source: Green Bay Press-Gazette (WI)
Copyright: 2013 Green Bay Press-Gazette
Author: Chris Ahmuty