Philadelphia Marijuana Arrests Point To Racial Bias


Graphic: Philly NORML

​Something more than criminal activity underlies the extraordinarily high numbers of marijuana possession arrests among blacks in Philadelphia, reports Linn Washington Jr. of The Philadelphia Tribune.

Across Pennsylvania, whites accounted for 58 percent of marijuana possession arrests in 2008, according to the Pennsylvania Uniform Crime Report (UCR) covering that year.
But in Philadelphia during the same year, black males accounted for 82.8 percent of the 4,716 adults arrested for smoking (not selling) marijuana, according to statistics harvested from Pennsylvania’s UCR by the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
Blacks and whites account for roughly equal proportions of Philadelphia’s population, with 43 percent blacks and 45 percent whites, according to the 2000 Census.

Studies have also consistently shown that illegal drug usage among whites exceeds the usage rate among blacks, with marijuana being the most widely used illicit street drug in the United States.

Graphic: Homegrown 420

​The patterns of racial bias extend across gender, according to Philly NORML.
Black women in Philadelphia experienced marijuana possession arrests during 2008 at a rate three times higher than white females, according to the organization.
In Philadelphia during 2008, 90 white women got busted for pot, compared to 345 black women arrested for the same offense. Multiple studies indicate that black and white women use cannabis at near-equal rates, Philly NORML said.
“Police in Philadelphia like to use marijuana arrests to search for other crimes,” said Derrick Rosenzweig, secretary of Philly NORML. “It’s racially biased.”
“Philadelphia NORML and the ACLU are awaiting a report from the Philadelphia Police Department to see what happens with marijuana arrests,” Rosenzweig said. “How many people receive 30 days in jail and a fine as permitted by law for possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana?”
Philly NORML discovered that Philadelphia spends between $500 and $1,000 for processing the pre-trial portion of each marijuana possession arrest. That adds up to millions of dollars annually, the organization said.
One of the reforms advanced by Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Castille, Court Justice Seamus McCaffery and Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams streamlines how Philly handles pot possession arrests, seeking to unclog a clogged court system by processing this minor crime differently.
Despite planned reforms in the processing of pot possession arrests, getting caught with weed still exposes offenders to up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. “This is not decriminalization of marijuana,” said Tasha Jamerson, media director for DA Williams.
NORML’s Rosenzweig called the reforms a “baby step” forward. He said his organization remains hopeful that Philadelphia, the state of Pennsylvania and the entire United States will legalize marijuana.