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Today in the War on (Some Classes of People Who Use Some) Drugs

[ 27 ] February 11, 2011 |

Depressing, but not surprising:

There have been about 350,000 arrests for marijuana possession since Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg took office in 2002, the policy alliance said.

Seventy percent of those arrested are younger than 30, and 86 percent are black or Latino, even though, according to the Drug Policy Group, “young whites use marijuana at higher rates.

And, of course, this discriminatory enforcement is not a coincidence; it’s what allows draconian drug laws to stay in the books. In theory, this where courts should intervene. In practice, the same Supreme Court that is very concerned about the “discrimination” inherent in local school boards voluntarily desegregating couldn’t care less about the actual invidious discrimination of the War on Drugs.


Comments (27)

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by LG&M, Scott Lemieux. Scott Lemieux said: Today in the War on (Some Classes of People Who Use Some) Drugs: […]

  2. gocart mozart says:

    CT has a sentence enhancement law for selling drugs within 1500 feet of a school. Show me a community that has over 90% of its area within 1500 feet of a school and I will show you a majority minority community. Overwhelmingly white suburbs and rural areas are much much less likely to be near a school. Of course I am sure that this fact is only a coincidence.

  3. Joe says:

    “Most people arrested for marijuana possession offenses are handcuffed, placed in a police car, taken to a police station, fingerprinted and photographed, held in jail for 24 hours or more and then arraigned before a judge.”

  4. Brenda Helverson says:

    And then you run into the mandatory sentencing problem. In some jurisdictions a Judge may not have the discretion to lower a sentence. Prosecutors get reelected for enforcing these sorts of laws and cops get more funding for making more busts. This little gravy train needs to be interrupted before we can make any progress on decriminalization.

  5. MikeN says:

    Wasn’t there a study a few years ago that said that NY cops use these arrests as a way to add overtime?
    You make the bust right near the end of the shift, it’s a clean bust in that the arrestee isn’t likely to be violent or vomit or defecate in your car, and isn’t a nice suburban white kid whose parents might raise hell.

  6. RepubAnon says:

    Meanwhile, Florida’s Tea Party government has essentially deregulated the sale of “hillbilly heroin”:

    “We’re getting wiped out up here with all these drug overdose deaths,” said the Boyd County sheriff, frustration seeping into his eastern Kentucky drawl. “We’re inundated with pills from Florida. We’re drowning in Florida pills,” he said. “Florida just doesn’t seem willing to do anything about it.”

    Gov. Rick Scott didn’t improve Florida’s reputation among Kentucky law officers this week when his proposed budget included plans to kill the state’s prescription drug monitoring program before it started. The computerized record system was supposed to curtail high-volume, barely regulated sales of oxycodone and other prescription narcotics by Florida’s faux medical clinics.

    Florida Herald: Commentary: Killing Florida’s pill-mill database would be a bad move

    So: Rush Limbaugh’s preferred drug can be purchased easily for cash with no legal oversight, despite the many overdose deaths and known addictive nature. Legalizing marijuana, however, is a wacky fringe idea…

  7. Malaclypse says:

    Racial discrimination isn’t the only reason why these figures may appear skewed.

    And who better to plausibly argue racial neutrality than someone with a racial pejorative for a nym?

    Really, Big Wrongful Jim, you should have used a different sock puppet for this thread.

  8. Scott Lemieux says:

    Exactly what would you propose the Supreme Court do to address this perceived discrimination?

    Not establish rules that make discrimination essentially impossible to prove?

  9. socraticsilence says:

    they may not be involved in other stuff that would make them visible to the police.

    You know like hanging around and being all not white and stuff.

  10. hv says:

    …ask the reader to conclude that there is intentional discrimination.

    We ask the reader to either do that or present well-reasoned alternative conclusions. Feel free to do a little Google-ing and a little math to decide if the demographics of poor areas can account for the effect. It’s all out there.

    …why these figures may appear are skewed.

    Fixed that for you. Even if we don’t agree on the proper explanation, the figures are skewed, period.

  11. DrDick says:

    When you have a persistent pattern in your data, then you look for factors which explain that pattern. Occam’s razor suggests discrimination is the most likely explanation here (especially since the patterns hold when you control for income and education). It is also supported by other data showing disproportionate percentages of convictions and longer sentences for non-whites in all areas of crime (according to DoJ studies).

  12. asdfsdf says:


    To be fair, if we consider it to be overzealous profiling, then both he and the general LGM community are somewhat correct. The police think black people and poor people are naturally sketchy=> more arrests, and of course, they think this not because of well reasoned statistics but because of stereotypes.

  13. BigHank53 says:

    Anyone remember the NJ state trooper case from a few years back? I remember hearing a bank v.p. being interviewed–he’d been stopped forty-eight times by the staties in a single year, without ever being issued a ticket. After he got rid of the BMW, nothing.

    There might be an explanation that doesn’t involve racism. I might also have a bridge to sell you.

  14. DocAmazing says:

    Ni**er Jim says:
    Here, you look for any excuse to play race.

    Okay, that transcends irony and enters the realm of Platonic stupidity.

  15. gocart mozart says:

    The intent of the law is not my point. The fact remains that those prosecuted under it are much more likely to be black or Hispanic solely because of where they live. If the purpose is to give an added penalty for selling near a school they should have crafted a law that limited enforcement to “near” a school (1500 ft is very far) and not a standard that includes 95+% of Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven and less than 10% of mostly white suburbs and rural towns.

    This comment is addressed to everyone but the the fake troll who doesn’t deserve a response.

  16. Malaclypse says:

    As I said upthread, Big Wrongful Jim really should have picked a different nym for this thread. Of course, he’s got pejoratives in both active nyms, so he’s going to find it hard to be taken seriously.

    Maybe he should start a 4th nym – something a little less StormFronty.

  17. gmack says:

    More or less agreed. I recall Steve Herbert (a geographer at UW where Scott and I got our PhDs) suggested NJ’s (I’m sorry–I refuse to type out his actual handle) explanation as a possible exacerbating factor to account for the racial disparities in drug arrests. But even if we accept this line of reasoning, this doesn’t get us very far: first, I doubt that differential patterns of sale and use (i.e., the fact that African Americans tend to sell and use drugs in more public spaces) can account for all of the difference. Second, even if it can, the fact that the police don’t take steps to equalize enforcement is still rather damning. After all, they know damned well that white kids smoke pot at equal or higher rates; they just don’t care enough about that kind of drug use to try to stop it. So what we have is a war (on some classes of people who use some) drugs that continues, primarily because its effects only harm relatively powerless and despised populations. And that is pretty much the textbook definition of “structural racism” (it’s not that some particular policeman is “racist”, or at least it’s not only that; it’s that patterns of power and cultural interpretation lead large and important swaths of the population not to care when idiotic drug laws harm people’s lives).

  18. Joe says:

    “structural racism”

    too complex to solve (or for some, to see) apparently; see also, how “societal discrimination” for some reason wasn’t a legitimate reason (for Powell) in Bakke.

    The difficult of proving single cases of discrimination does not justify continuation of a system that is racist as a whole.

  19. DocAmazing says:

    Ah, “culture”. That’s an interesting word to use. In California at least, when obvious racial bias comes out in analysis, apologists reach for their culture. It was a punch line all through the Reagan years–but it helps us form a clearer picture of our troll Jim.

  20. DrDick says:

    There is a significant difference in culture that is relevant here and is presented in the original post, but your selective reading comprehension apparently does not let you see.

    According to the Drug Policy Group, “young whites use marijuana at higher rates.”

    Yet despite this marked cultural difference, more black kids are arrested for marijuana use. I think maybe you might want to look at the culture of the police for your explanation in this case.

  21. hv says:

    Is the lens of perceived racial egalitarianism so powerful that it should drive *all* other variables?

    Of course not! Feel free to mention any evidence that is being neglected.

  22. DocAmazing says:

    the demographics of New York City
    I’m not from NYC, but I have spent months at a time there; I get the impression that our troll has not. If he had, he’d know a couple of things:

    -NYC is big. Really, really big. And diverse. Contrary to Jim’s apparent notion of one big Alphabet City, I’ve been to parts of Queens wherein a nonwhite face was nowhere to be seen, and I’ve heard the same about parts of Staten Island.

    -NYC is old. As an older city (well, not relative to Jericho or Baghdad, but old by US standards) it has its own culture. Part of that culture is that “on the streets” is not a pejorative. Unlike whichever suburb our asterisked troll Jim inhabits, “the streets” are a lively place, where children customarily play and people converse and mingle. People go for walks in the evening in the parts of NYC where I was working, and they do so because there are things to see and do that are within walking distance.

    My remarks below on “culture” speak for themselves.

  23. hv says:

    If only there were some way for our dumbass troll to answer any of these demographic questions for himself.

    Is it bad google skills? Is it a fear there may be math involved?


    Dude, you either have to take our word for it or look them up yourself. There is no 3rd way.

  24. RobW says:

    In our world, words have meaning that individuals don’t get to define for themselves.

    Learn what words mean, Fu***r Jim. Bigotry, prejudice, racism. Go on, look them up. They are different words with different meanings.

    Give ya a hint: the first two are applicable. The third requires an institutional, societal power imbalance. By definition.

  25. witless chum says:

    One real existing cultural difference, at least in Michigan, is that black people are extremely reluctant to use or sell meth. Rural whites are, of course, huge fans. It’s the country music of hard drugs!

  26. hv says:

    That’s too funny! You whine about not being satisfied with evidence as you spin cotton candy scenarios.

    I am attempting to spend just enough effort to exceed the amount of evidence you offer. Since that is currently zero, this tiny, little bit of evidence trumps. Ante up.

    I am reasonably confident that people have already thought of this big “poverty/racism link” theory.

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