ACLU: New Jersey Pot Arrests On The Rise, Race Plays a Major Role

By Keri Blakinger 06/19/17

Police make a pot possession arrest in the Garden State every 22 minutes, according to a new report.

hand in handcuffs

Black Americans in New Jersey are three times more likely to face marijuana charges than their white counterparts—even though both groups smoke up at about the same rate, according to the findings of a new American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) report. 

The findings of “Unequal & Unfair: NJ’s War on Marijuana Users,” released Thursday, paint a stark picture of the Garden State’s lowest-level drug enforcement practices. 

“New Jersey’s arrest practices for marijuana possession illustrate the failure of marijuana enforcement,” the report notes. “They have a devastating impact of aggressive, costly, racially disparate punishment for use of a drug that for adults is less dangerous than alcohol.”

The racial disparity in pot arrests reached a new high in 2013, when data shows Black Americans were 11.3 times more likely to get arrested for pot than whites. In Point Pleasant, the numbers were even more extreme—with Black Americans 31.8 times more likely to end up with a marijuana arrest. The Jersey Shore’s Cape May County scored the highest per capita arrest rate of any county.

Overall, pot arrests are on the rise, the ACLU found. While New Jersey law enforcement made 19,607 marijuana arrests in 2000, by 2013 that number increased to 24,067. On average, police make a pot possession arrest in the Garden State every 22 minutes. 

"Well over half of all Americans support legalization, but more people are arrested for marijuana possession in our state than ever before," said ACLU counsel Dianna Houenou. "The racial disparity in these arrests has only grown."

The report—which derives its findings from census data as well as the FBI Uniform Crime Report—recommends legalizing marijuana, having the state’s attorney general investigate the racial disparities, and tracking arrest data for Latinos to create a fuller data set. 

Fortunately, some area lawmakers are already on board with tackling the growing green problem. In May, one state legislator introduced a recreational marijuana bill that could legalize ganja almost as soon as the pot-hating Gov. Chris Christie leaves office at the start of next year.  

Currently, such greenery is only allowable in the Garden State when it’s used for a select number of medical problems, and doled out by a small number of highly regulated dispensaries.  

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.