According to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union, there is a high racial disparity in Pennsylvania’s marijuana-related arrests. The study shows that whites in the state are 5.2 times less likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than African Americans. This is higher than the national average, in which whites, on average, are 3.73 times less likely to be arrested for this offense. This national disparity is not confined to certain cities or states; it exists in all parts of the country.
The ACLU’s report states that these disparities do not fall in line with usage statistics, which indicate that African Americans and whites use the substance at similar rates.
These findings of this study are substantial, as 52 percent of U.S. drug arrests are related to marijuana. This means that African Americans bear the brunt of drug arrests and convictions in this country. As a result, this population is placed at a disadvantage because the presence of arrests and convictions in a person’s record can negatively impact eligibility for student financial aid, job opportunities and public housing options.
Against this backdrop, Philadelphia has recently become the largest city in the United States to decriminalize marijuana, according to the Marijuana Policy Project. Under a new ordinance, which became effective as of October 20 of this year, criminal penalties for marijuana drug possession have been replaced with a $25 civil fine. This ordinance only applies to incidences of possession that involve less than an ounce of the substance.
In contrast to Philadelphia’s ordinance, Pennsylvania state law penalizes marijuana possession with the possibility of jail time and a fine of up to $500.