Marijuana arrests and racism in Virginia (especially Arlington County)

Reefer madness.  The upcoming debate in the Virginia General Assembly over decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana may have racial overtones.  VCU Capital News Service studied the data for marijuana arrests in Virginia from 2010 through 2016.  African Americans were 3.2 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana crimes than whites.  At the same time separate research shows almost no difference in marijuana use between white and black Americans.  Across America it’s even worse.  Nationally, a black person is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for a marijuana crime than a white person.

Location, location, location.  VCU Capital News Service breaks down the data by locality.  You can find the numbers here.  The only jurisdictions where the per capita arrest rate for whites is higher than blacks are those counties where the population is so low that a single arrest can make a statistical difference.  Highland County, for example, averaged 13 African American residents over the study’s time period and none of the 13 were arrested for marijuana crimes.  Two white people (out of about 2,200) were arrested for marijuana crimes in Highland County.  In all of Virginia’s populous localities the African American arrest rate was notably higher than the corresponding rate for white people.  In Hanover County for example, blacks were arrested at a frequency 6.3 times that of whites.

Libtopia.  Anybody who has ever been to Arlington County knows that safe spaces are mandated by the building codes, snowflakes can be seen in July and rainbow colored unicorns prance in the bike lanes.  It’s a progressive paradise.  So it probably comes as a surprise that African Americans were more than eight times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana crimes in Arlington from 2010 – 2016.  Arlington County’s Board has five Democrats, no Republicans and no independents.  The lone independent (John Vihstadt) was defeated in November.  How is it possible for the Lions of Libtopia to turn a blind eye to rampant racism occurring in their social justice warrior wonderland?

The Hook is dope.  If you do want to posses marijuana you ought to consider residing in the City of Charlottesville (25 total arrests per 100,000 residents) rather than the City of Emporia (1,595 total arrests per 100,000 residents).  You are 64 times more likely to get a reefer bust in Emporia than in Charlottesville.  Does anybody think that the people of Emporia use marijuana 64 times more often than the people in Charlottesville?  In fairness, I95 comprises about 1/2 of the border of Emporia so many of the arrests may be people using that highway.  However, Falls Church (51) vs Fairfax City (589) makes one wonder.

Unfair at any speed.  As the General Assembly considers decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana it should also consider the fairness of the present system.  Vast differences are observable in the enforcement of marijuana laws across race and location.  In locality after locality you are more likely to be arrested for marijuana if you are black vs white.  The City of Charlottesville (pop 45k) made 11 marijuana related arrests from 2010 through 2016, fewer than 2 per year.  The City of Danville (pop 43k) made 354 arrests over the same period, over 50 per year.

— Don Rippert

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14 responses to “Marijuana arrests and racism in Virginia (especially Arlington County)

  1. This is one of those areas where Dillon is at issue.

    The question is – should there be a statewide standard or should each locality do their own thing?

    Localities already do their own thing on enforcement. Just imagine what it would be like if each locality had their own laws!!!

    • Don, I am highly suspicious of arguments based on disparities of outcomes between blacks and white. It is possible that some kind of discrimination is going on, but I’ve seen so many bogus analyses that I don’t accept that view as the default proposition.

      First question: In the calculation of marijuana arrest rates, how many arrests are for possession of small quantities?

      How many marijuana arrests are for possession of larger quantities that imply an intent to distribute?

      If most marijuana arrests are for possession with intent to distribute, then the relevant comparison is not how many blacks vs. whites smoke marijuana, it’s how many blacks vs. white distribute marijuana.

      Is it possible that more blacks than whites engage in marijuana distribution? I can be persuaded that the criminal justice system is fundamentally unfair if blacks and whites distribute equally but blacks are arrested more frequently. Have you see any research on that?

      • Only thing I’ve found is from the ACLU saying that most of the arrests for marijuana aren’t kingpins but arrests for possession of small amounts of pot.

        https://www.aclu.org/issues/smart-justice/sentencing-reform/war-marijuana-black-and-white

      • This is another study of marijuana arrests in Virginia. It reaches the same conclusions as the VCU study I quoted. However, in Endnote 2 they describe how they use percentages to separate possession arrests from total marijuana arrests. In that endnote they claim that 89.16% of marijuana arrests in Virginia over a representative two year period were for possession. Let’s call it 90 – 10 for convenience. Arlington averages 479 marijuana arrests per year. Using our percentages 431 would be possession and 48 would be for dealing. Let’s make the absurd assumption that all of the dealers are black. Arlington is about 65% white and 8.5% black. That would be 280 arrests of whites and 85 arrests of black people (8.5% of possessors and 100% of dealers). The actual number averaged 247 for whites and 232 for blacks. Even if all the dealers are black the arrests of black people are 2.7X higher than expected.

        https://www.drugpolicy.org/sites/default/files/Racial_Disparities_in_Marijuana_Arrests_in_Virginia_2003-2013.pdf

      • If the criminal justice system itself is set up in such a way that it arbitrary in how it treats certain crimes then what? And we know that Jim Crow perverted the criminal justice system in ways that we are still trying to “reform”.

        I just feel that thinking a particular race or culture is more predisposed to crime, discipline issues, and low academic performance, etc – is wrong-headed from the get-go – and when we attempt to justify it with “stats” – well…. it’s a problem – ultimately – for all of us.

  2. Here’s what I think really happens …

    1. A policeman can claim smelling marijuana as probable cause to search a car.
    2. Police are much more interested in searching cars in high crime poor areas than in low crime areas.
    3. African Americans constitute a much higher percentage of residents of poor high crime areas than wealthy low crime areas.
    4. Police search more cars in poor high crime areas than wealthy low crime areas. The police may use the marijuana smell (or pretext thereof) to search for guns or stolen property. However, they often find marijuana. When they do find marijuana the police make a marijuana arrest.

    The following article contains some vulgarity but also contains this …

    “Cooper: There’s only three probable causes for searching an automobile — a credible informant; a canine’s tip; or when an officer uses one of his senses to detect that there’s contraband in the automobile. The most common way of doing so is a cop saying they smell the odor of marijuana coming from an automobile. At least speaking for myself, I alleged to smell marijuana to obtain probable cause many, many times. Essentially, if someone refused to consent to me searching their car, I’d just tell them I smelled marijuana so I could do it anyway.

    As a top law enforcement agent in the U.S., I knew a judge would believe me over the “bad guy” every time, so I could get away with lying. I usually didn’t have to to lie about it though, because I loved making my dog “false alert” instead, using commands to excite the dog in order to get them to communicate a response, even when narcotics hadn’t been detected.”

    https://melmagazine.com/en-us/story/will-the-weed-as-probable-cause-loophole-finally-be-closed-with-legalization

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  4. It will still be illegal to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana, so what pray tell is going to change? Won’t the cop still have reason in that case to search the car? Don’t we want potheads off the roads until they straighten out just like we want drunks off the roads? Shouldn’t DUI drugs be the same crime as DUI booze? Or are you going to claim potheads are safe drivers…..

    I have no problem with removing the criminal penalty for small amount possession, but I want cops who suspect impaired driving to enforce that law with everybody (without racial prejudice or preference). And will the next step (of course) be to make it illegal for employers to turn down potheads for employment or terminate them? To do their own tests for drug use? That’s next, right? Or can we at least keep regulating it in the workplace, with the same rules for pot and alcohol (bring it to work and your ass is grass…pardon the pun.)

    And Larry, this is a perfect example of the wisdom of ol’ Judge Dillon and there needs to be a statewide, legislative decision.

    • Steve says”…I want cops who suspect impaired driving to enforce that law with everybody. And will the next step (of course) be to make it illegal for employers to turn down potheads for employment or terminate them? To do their own tests for drug use? That’s next, right?”

      Bingo!

      Pot is neither cool nor hip. At best it is a public nuisance. At worse, pot is far worse. The absolute last thing America needs are more pot heads.

    • There are two issues. First, it’s not just marijuana smoke odor that a policeman can claim to smell. He or she can also claim to smell unlit marijuana. Unless somebody has a bushel of the stuff in the car I think claiming to smell unlit marijuana is BS. Second, African Americans apparently own pot that is a lot easier to smell. That is also BS.

      A policeman who thinks he or she smells pot (lit or unlit) should be required to activate a body cam during the search. That search should become public domain information – available to the person or people who were stopped. Police that stop cars because they smell marijuana but then don’t find any ought to be held accountable – especially if it happens on a routine basis.

      As for Judge Dillon … not quite. Counties and cities in Virginia can elect to ban the sale of alcohol. Bland, Buchanan, Charlotte, Craig, Grayson, Lee and Patrick counties in Virginia were all dry as of 2016. Beyond that there is obvious evidence of selective enforcement. The idea that the City of Charlottesville, home of UVA, has the lowest incidence of marijuana arrests because it has the lowest incidence of marijuana use is absurd. Apparently, the police in Charlottesville have better things to do than sniff around traffic stops hoping to get a whiff of unlit pot so they can search the car.

  5. First I have no problem with the decriminalization of personal use of marijuana. Depending on the details, I could probably support legalization under regulation similar to alcohol and tobacco. Driving while stoned needs a serious penalty just like DUI.

    Having said this, if the social justice warriors were serious about racism, they would go after Arlington County with a vengeance. But they won’t and neither will the crusading media. It’s the Bill Clinton exception for sexual abuse being applied to pot. Bad things are only wrong when they are done by non-Democrats.

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