Massachusetts Police Making Pot Arrests Low Priority

By McCarton Ackerman 12/10/13

Despite arrests trending downward, statistics show that African-Americans are more likely to be hauled in for possession than whites.

pot plant_0.jpg
Not going to be legal anytime soon...
Photo via Shutterstock

New statistics show that Massachusetts has the lowest arrest rates for marijuana possession in the country, but that there's still work to be done in the Bay State. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found that after Massachusetts decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana in 2009, weed arrests dropped to 18 for every 100,000 citizens the following year. That amount is six times fewer than Hawaii, the next lowest state on the list. However, the reported statistics came before marijuana was made legal in Colorado and Washington.

Although police in Massachusetts are not making pot busts a high priority, there is still racial disparity when it comes to those who are arrested. Despite similar use rates, the ACLU reports that black people are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites. Meanwhile, Massachusetts' own figures show that African-Americans are 3.9 times more likely than whites to be busted for pot, while African-Americans in Plymouth and Barnstable counties are 11 times more likely to be arrested.

“We still today arrest 1.6 million people a year for non-violent drug offenses, and we imprison as many as we can — and then we have to pay for it,” said retired State Police Lt. Jack Cole, a co-founder of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, an organization with offices in Medford. “Imagine what we could do with that money.”

However, Massachusetts has no plans to join Colorado and Washington in making marijuana legal, something which even local decriminalization groups believe is the right strategy, due to a possible increase in health care costs and addiction. “We're coming from a youth prevention perspective,” said Jody Hensley, a coordinator with Smart Approaches to Marijuana. “The march to legalization ... is really changing behaviors (in youth). That's our concern.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.