According to the new report, A Tale of Two Countries Racially Targeted Arrests in the Era of Marijuana Reform, Indiana ranks 24th in the nation for largest racial disparities in marijuana arrests. The new ACLU report details marijuana possession arrests from 2010 to 2018, updating our unprecedented national report released in 2013, The War on Marijuana in Black and White.

In Indiana, Black people are still 3.5x more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession. And arrests for the possession of marijuana made up 45% of all drug arrests in Indiana.

These disparities in arrests have long-lasting implications in communities for decades to follow. The harms created by an arrest for marijuana possession or sale carry lifelong implications, including incarceration, lifelong criminal convictions, the loss of jobs, housing, financial aid eligibility, child custody, and immigration status. Layer these harms on top of the current public health crisis, and communities across the country suffer. 

In Indiana, all but 13 counties are above the national average for racial disparities. And while Marion County’s rate of disparity is below the national average, there seems to be an alarming trend for surrounding counties to have disproportionately high arrests of Black community members. For example, Hancock, Hamilton, Shelby and Boone counties, all donut counties, have a racial disparities rate of greater than 10x.

Selective enforcement of laws against people of color has had a disproportionate effect on Black communities, with Black people coming in contact with law enforcement and the criminal justice system at far higher rates than white people. 

Across the nation, marijuana arrests have trended downward since 2010, but since the middle of the decade that progress has stopped. There were more marijuana arrests in 2018 than in 2015, despite the fact that 8 states legalized or decriminalized marijuana possession in those three years.

Legalization and decriminalization can be effective tools in combating racial disparities in marijuana arrest only if racial equity is centered. 

It is critically important that the benefits of decriminalization and legalization are felt by the individuals and communities most harmed by the war on drugs, namely people of color and low-income communities. This includes expunging the criminal records of those adversely impacted by decades of marijuana prohibition and ensuring access to the economic opportunities that the legal market provides to those benefits communities who have suffered from racist police policies like stop-and-frisk and selective enforcement. 

Unfortunately, like we see in many parts of Indiana’s criminal legal system, this report also flags the fact that many counties collect and share insufficient data, making it nearly impossible to determine disparity rates. We must have transparency across the board in our criminal legal system in order to reduce disparities and hold key elected officials accountable.

These Black-white racial disparities are not an anomaly and are pervasive across the country. Read the full report, A Tale of Two Countries Racially Targeted Arrests in the Era of Marijuana Reform, to learn more.