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Red, Yellow, Black or White, Who'll Get Nabbed for Weed Tonight?

Proponents for the legalization of cannabis will be happy to know they now have the support of the ACLU.

In a recent report published by the American Civil Liberties Union, a large disparity was found between the number of Iowan African-Americans and the number of Caucasians arrested for possession. Apparently, blacks are eight times more likely to be arrested with possession charges than whites, despite the fact that neither uses the drug more than the other.

The solution? Why, legalize marijuana, of course! The ACLU suggests that the “smartest and surest way to end racially biased enforcement of marijuana laws” is to decriminalize marijuana use altogether. Now that’s equal opportunity!

University of Iowa law professor Song Richardson is concerned. The disproportion in arrests, to her, indicates that more blacks are being processed for minor claims that may be overlooked for their white counterparts. Incentives offered in exchange for a certain number of drug possession arrests may be to blame. These incentives motivate police officers to book and process more minor possession claims that could otherwise be swept under the rug.

Societal views of African-Americans as troublemakers may also contribute to the disparity. Police may unwittingly focus drug-related efforts in areas with a high number of African-American residents, with the unfounded bias that most black people are criminals.

Some minor possession charges could be overlooked by officers. According to a summary of Iowa drug laws found here (, possession of even a small portion of cannabis carries with it a serious misdemeanor charge. This charge cannot be expunged, as Iowa only allows for the expungement of cases involving public intoxication ( In some states, such as Texas, a misdemeanor can disqualify a person from renting an apartment or home, limiting available housing options. Misdemeanor charges can also appear each time an employer conducts a background check, potentially limiting employment options.

The cards are stacked against those pigeonholed as troublemakers. Until all bias is eliminated, legalizing marijuana may help protect our minorities from unequal law enforcement.


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