Guest Post by Misty Seemans, ACLU-DE's Fall 2013 Legal Fellow

HURTING OUR COMMUNITIES

Black individuals are three times more likely to be arrested than whites for marijuana possession in Delaware, even though across the country there is no difference by race in marijuana use.

Disproportionately arresting black persons for marijuana possession has a devastating effect on minority communities. Convictions lead to driver’s license revocation, as well as loss of job opportunities, federal and state student financial aid eligibility, public housing access, child custody rights, and immigration status. Additionally, Delaware can deny food stamps unless the drug offender attends treatment. A felony marijuana conviction—including possession of more than about 6 ounces— in Delaware can also result in the loss of voting rights for five years and bar someone from jury service for life.

WHERE TAX DOLLARS ARE GOING

Not only are marijuana possession laws applied unequally among races, but they’re expensive. According to a recent report by ACLU National, in 2010, Delaware spent $13,234,181 on the police, judicial, legal and corrections costs of marijuana possession enforcement. That same year, there were 2,554 arrests in Delaware for marijuana possession, averaging taxpayers a cost of $5,182 per offense.

Compare this to other Delaware spending. Average statewide per-student spending for the 2011-2012 school year was $12,421. So we spend the same amount to enforce marijuana possession laws as we do to educate 1,065 students for a year.

As Superior Court Judge Charles H. Toliver IV stated at the Coalition to Dismantle the New Jim Crow’s November public forum ‘Race and the Criminal Justice System, Revisited,’ he wouldn’t spend a penny more on the court system if he had the power to allocate state funds.

I’d put it in the school system and the social service system,” he said. “It is just much cheaper to put the resources in up front. I would not build more prisons. We have enough.”

OUT OF WHACK WITH THE NATION

What’s more, Delaware’s spending on the enforcement of marijuana possession laws is out of whack with the rest of America.  According to the report, Delaware had the seventh highest per capita fiscal expenditures enforcing marijuana possession laws of all 50 states and the District of Columbia in 2010.

And Delaware is increasingly applying this expensive and racially biased law. Delaware had the second highest percentage increase (102%) for marijuana possession arrest rates from 2001 to 2010, trailing only Montana. Nationally, the increase was just 18%. And in 2010, marijuana possession accounted for 47% of all drug arrests in Delaware. It’s no wonder that there is a burden on Delaware’s criminal justice system.

TIME TO REFOCUS

So what are we getting for all of this money and time? Nationally, there has been no decrease in marijuana use or availability. Considering the ineffectiveness and racial bias involved, it appears the War on Marijuana has been a waste of money and police resources that could be better invested in our community.

ACLU National believes marijuana possession should be legalized, or alternately, decriminalized for people 21 or older. Until this is achieved, they recommend reprioritizing enforcement of marijuana possession laws and the cessation of racial profiling and unconstitutional stop, frisk and search practices. It’s time to refocus our resources in Delaware and end the failed War on Marijuana.

Read ACLU National’s full report here.

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