A black person in Iowa is about eight times more likely to be arrested for a marijuana possession charge than a white person, according to a recent study released by the American Civil Liberties Union. This is more than double the national average which showed a racial disparity of about 3.7. The disparity in Iowa was the greatest of any state in the country.
A spokesperson for the Iowa ACLU chapter called the numbers "devastating" in a recent interview.
There is no meaningful disparity between the groups in terms of actual marijuana use.
The authors of the report point to selective enforcement in the "war on drugs" in communities with predominantly black residents, noting that these types of charges can start a cycle of ensnarement between an individual and law enforcement that is difficult to break.
It is true that drug possession charges can lead to a slew of difficulties for those accused of the crime. Many do not realize that even if the charges are minor, a conviction or guilty plea can have repercussions for housing, jobs, or financial aid for higher education. Even without jail time, being on probation and having regular contact with police can equate to a higher likelihood of being arrested again and facing other types of charges.
It is not clear yet what police departments in Iowa plan to do to try to correct this disparate treatment of black residents. An ACLU spokesperson urged the people of Iowa to take responsibility for the situation and to seek a solution that will end the injustice.
Source: The Daily Nonpareil, "Study: Black Iowans eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession," Mike Brownlee, June 5, 2013.