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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Racial Disparity In Marijuana Arrests Getting Worse in Bay Area

Posted By on Wed, Mar 4, 2015 at 10:32 AM

The grass is greener. - THEWEEDBLOG.ORG
  • The grass is greener.
In addition to providing recent Bay Area transplants a glimpse of what San Francisco was like in the '90s, Oakland is an example of real racial diversity.

At about one-quarter black, white, and Latino — with Asians comprising about 17 percent of the population — Oakland is the definition of a melting pot in America. 

But not when it comes to marijuana crime.

In 2011, 87.5 percent of the people arrested or given citations for marijuana crime in Oakland were black or Latino, according to the East Bay Express. That figure was more depressing in 2013, the most recent data available, when 91.6 percent of people busted for pot were black or brown.

Still, that's not the worst racial disparity for weed arrests in the Bay Area.
It is true that Oakland is famously liberal on marijuana. A law making cannabis crimes the lowest police priority has been on the books for a decade now. And only one person was arrested for marijuana cultivation in Oakland in 2013.

Still, 527 people were busted (cited or arrested) for some kind of marijuana crime in 2013, according to the Oakland Police Department.  Of those, 483 were either black or Latino, according to an OPD report given to that city's Cannabis Regulatory Committee last summer. That's a whopping 91.6 percent.

Only arrest stats, not citations, were available for police departments in San Francisco and San Jose, making an apples-to-apples comparison impossible. But when only comparing arrests, we found there were 159 felony or misdemeanor marijuana arrests made by the Oakland Police Department in 2013. Of those, 141 were black or Latino — 88.6 percent, according to Justice Department data.

Compare that to San Francisco and San Jose. In the West and South bays respectively, 243 and 272 people were arrested for marijuana crimes. Of these, about 40 percent and 73.3 percent of the arrests for marijuana crimes fell under the category of blacks or Latinos, respectively. 

To put that into content, San Jose is 33.2 percent Latino, according to Census figures. There, 64 percent of cannabis busts were of Latinos alone. 

Those same numbers show that none of the people docked for pot by SFPD in San Francisco were Latino, meaning black people accounted for 40 percent of weed busts in the city. Six percent of San Franciscans are black. That's a disparity worse than Oakland and worse than San Jose.

In Oakland's defense, most arrests are call-related, according to Joe DeVries, who staffs the Oakland Cannabis Regulatory Commission. That means that if cops are called to a disturbance or some kind of incident in, say, East Oakland — where crime is highest — and pot is found, then "that's what they bust," he said.

And in the past, San Francisco cops have said that marijuana arrests are often only part of a charge — for example, someone busted for DUI may also have a marijuana charge on his or her record.

For some, those will be excuses or rationalization of a stark truth: the war on drugs appears to be pretty black and white. 

Even in Oakland, despite the Michael Chabon-endorsed multiethnic soul food. 
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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.

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