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Report finds racial disparity in rate of Illinois drug arrests

A new report out from the American Civil Liberties Union found that Illinois is among the top states in the country for marijuana arrests. Not only do law enforcement officers in Illinois arrest more people for marijuana than elsewhere, but the report also finds that a majority of the arrests are of African-Americans even though marijuana use is equal across racial groups.

In Cook County alone there is an average of 91 marijuana possession arrests each day, totaling about 33,000 per year according to statistics from 2010. That year the state as a whole spent $221 million enforcing marijuana laws alone, money which advocates say could be better spent policing more violent crimes in the Chicago area.


According to the report, an African American person living in Illinois is eight times more likely than a white person to be arrested for marijuana possession. A spokesperson for the ACLU in Illinois says that this trend is similar across the country and that Chicago in particular seems to aim enforcement efforts towards people of color.

A spokesperson for the Chicago Police told reporters that they do not enforce drug laws with race in mind.

The ACLU called for the legalization of marijuana in this report, echoing a growing public sentiment that taxpayer money could be better spent policing more harmful substances. There are also economic arguments to legalizing the drug since it could bring in signficant revenue for the state that could be used not just for crime prevention, but for other important social services like substance abuse programs.

The bottom line is that Chicago residents should not be unfairly targeted by police based on what they look like or what neighborhood they live in. Drug arrests, even those that do not end in a conviction, can have a serious impact on someone's future job and educational prospects. This is one reason why it is so important to fight unjust allegations and to be aware of potential police misconduct. 


Source: WBEZ, "ACLU finds racial disparities in Illinois pot arrests," Patrick Smith, June 5, 2013. 

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