ACLU Finds Black Kentuckians Arrested for Marijuana at Disproportionately High Rate

Apr 28, 2020

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A new report says black Kentuckians are more than nine times as likely than whites to get arrested for marijuana possession.  That’s much higher than the national average, according a study by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The study from the ACLU found the commonwealth ranks second in the nation for the largest racial disparities in arrests for marijuana possession.  That’s based on arrest data from 2010 to 2018, which updates the ACLU's 2013 report The War on Marijuana in Black and White.  Nationally, blacks are more than three times as likely to go to jail than whites.

Keturah Herron, a policy strategist at the ACLU of Kentucky, says law enforcement disproportionately targets black communities while sending hundreds of thousands of people into the criminal justice system at a high cost.

"Almost 90 percent of marijuana arrests are for possession, so it’s not like it’s trafficking or selling that’s the main thing that folks are being arrested for," Herron told WKU Public Radio.

While most Kentucky counties have a disproportionate amount of black residents arrested for possession, the ACLU report shows Daviess, Hopkins, Graves, Kenton, and McCracken counties have the largest disparities in the racial makeup of those arrested for marijuana-related crimes.

Although the total number of people arrested for marijuana possession has decreased in the past decade, law enforcement still made more than six million arrests nationally from 2010-2018, and racial disparities remain in every state. 

The ACLU advocates for the legalization of marijuana nationwide as one method of reducing those disparities.