A Tale of Two Countries: Racially Targeted Arrests in the Era of Cannabis Reform Details Millions of Racially Targeted Cannabis Arrests Made Between 2010-2018


Today the American Civil Liberties Union released a new report that showed Black people are 7.3 times more likely than white people to be arrested for cannabis possession in West Virginia, despite comparable national cannabis usage rates. Only Montana, Kentucky, and Illinois saw higher disparities. Nationally, Black people were 3.64 times more likely to be arrested than white people.

“This report makes clear what many of us have known for some time which is that West Virginia is one of the worst in the nation for how it treats cannabis offenses both in terms of overall arrests and racial disparities,” said Eli Baumwell, ACLU-WV policy director. “This is inexcusable.”

Although the total number of people arrested for possession has decreased in the past decade, nationally, law enforcement still made 6.1 million such arrests over that period, and racial disparities in arrest rates remain in every state.

The report, A Tale of Two Countries: Racially Targeted Arrests in the Era of Marijuana Reform, details possession arrests from 2010 to 2018 and updates our unprecedented national report published in 2013, The War on Marijuana in Black and White. The disturbing findings of this new research show that despite several states having reformed cannabis policy over the last decade, far too much has remained unchanged when it comes to racial disparities in arrests.

A Tale of Two Countries: Racially Targeted Arrests in the Era of Marijuana Reform comes at a time when the criminal legal system is overwhelmed by the COVID-19 public health crisis that demands expedited decarcercal action to safeguard the lives of those incarcerated in and employed by jails and prisons. The reforms recommended in this report provide a road map for reducing cannabis arrests and criminalization as governors, prosecutors, judges, and other stakeholders across the country grapple with the harms presented by the public health crisis and take steps to release people from jails and prisons.

To combat the racial disparities rampant in cannabis-related arrests, ACLU-WV is calling not only for an end to racialized policing, but also for full legalization of cannabis use and possession and specific measures to ensure legalization efforts are grounded in racial justice. This includes pressing for passage of the MORE Act, which aims to correct historical injustices of the failed War on Drugs that has terrorized Black communities and decriminalizes cannabis at the federal level, reassesses cannabis convictions, and invests in economically disadvantaged communities.


Other key findings:

  • Across the U.S., law enforcement made more than 6.1 million cannabis-related arrests from 2010 to 2018. In West Virginia, there were 8,963 cannabis arrests in 2018 alone.
  • Overall national arrest rates have trended downward, however in West Virginia, possession arrests have actually increased 49.2 percent from 2010 to 2018.
  • Nationally, in 2018, law enforcement made more cannabis arrests than for all violent crimes combined.
  • Despite legalization in a number of states, it is not clear that cannabis arrests are trending downward nationally. National arrest rates have actually risen in the past few years, with almost 100,000 more arrests in 2018 than 2015.
  • Racial disparities in cannabis-related arrests in West Virginia have not improved between 2010 and 2018.
  • Preston and Putnam counties were among the worst counties in the nation for racial disparities.
  • West Virginia is one of ten states in which Black people were more than 5 times more likely to be arrested for possession than white people.

The full report is available here.

State level data is available here.