CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) – Black Ohioans are more likely than their white counterparts to be arrested for marijuana-related crimes, even though people of both races use the drug at about the same rate, a 19 new analysis shows.
“The disparities are there with arrests, but the disparities aren’t there with consumption,” said cannabis educator and activist Bryan Adams.
Adams said he’s familiar with the racial disparity in marijuana arrests across the country.
According to data compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau and American Civil Liberties Union, white and Black Americans use marijuana at similar rates, but Black Americans are nearly four times more likely to get arrested for it.
In some places, it’s even worse.
In Geauga County, Black people make up only 1% of the population, yet they are 19 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people.
These inconsistencies exist across the state.
“What we found in the city of Dayton was seven of the 10 people convicted of minor misdemeanor charges were African American men,” said Tasha Rountree, a cannabis activist who runs expungement clinics across the state.
These arrests have harmful, far-reaching effects — and the damage can last for years.
“Your life insurance policy will go up,” she said. “It costs more to drive a car than the average person. If you ever need housing, you can’t receive housing.”
Those arrests can damage your future prospects as well
“Career aspirations: You look at trying to get incorporated with the SBA — small business loan,” said Adams.
The two are quick to say that none of this is to say criminals shouldn’t be punished for their crimes, but they stress that the system unfairly targets Black Americans, and the consequences perpetuate inequality in our society.
“It’s just simply a loop of poverty,” said Roundtree. “It’s a case of you are too poor to pay your insurance because you have to make a choice of do I make my insurance payment, do I make my house payment or do I buy groceries.”
“So then you have just the general perception of this person got what he deserved because those people act like this,” said Adams.
Some cities are taking steps to address the disparity.
Cleveland is one of 30 cities across the state that has decriminalized misdemeanor possession of marijuana.
Rountree’s clinics seal records, giving a measure of equity that’s lacking in the system.
“When you look at social injustice and see how many more people of color are penalized and prosecuted for low entry-level crimes than other populations — they should be able to move on with their life, ” she said.
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