LITTLE ROCK  – Today the American Civil Liberties Union released a new report showing that arrests for marijuana possession in Arkansas have increased nearly 50 percent since 2010, with Black people 2.4 times more likely than white people to be arrested, despite comparable national marijuana usage rates. Arkansas saw the sixth largest percentage increase in marijuana possession arrests in the country. 

The report, “A Tale of Two Countries: Racially Targeted Arrests in the Era of Marijuana Reform, details marijuana possession arrests from 2010 to 2018 and updates our unprecedented national report published in 2013, The War on Marijuana in Black and White. The disturbing findings of this new research show that despite several states, including Arkansas, having reformed marijuana policy over the last decade, far too much has remained unchanged when it comes to racial disparities in arrests. 

“With our mass incarceration crisis on the brink of becoming a public health crisis due to COVID-19, this report is a reminder of how racially-biased policies are putting the health and well-being of our communities at risk,” said Holly Dickson, legal director and interim executive director at the ACLU of Arkansas. “This is an alarming increase in marijuana possession arrests that disproportionately impacts Black communities and wastes millions of taxpayer dollars. For the health and safety of all Arkansans, state officials must immediately release vulnerable people from prisons and jails and stop terrorizing our communities with a failed war on drugs.” 

Key findings include:

  • Across the U.S., law enforcement made more than 6.1 million marijuana-related arrests from 2010 to 2018. In Arkansas alone, there were almost 10,692 marijuana arrests in 2018, the vast majority of which were for possession. 
  • In 2018, marijuana possession arrests accounted for 49 percent of all drug arrests in Arkansas.
  • Arkansas had the 15th highest marijuana possession arrest rate in the nation.
  • Overall, arrest rates have trended downward in some parts of the country, however in Arkansas, marijuana possession arrests have actually increased 49.2 percent from 2010 to 2018.
  • Nationally, in 2018, law enforcement made more marijuana arrests than for all violent crimes combined.
  • Despite legalization in a number of states, national arrest rates have actually risen in the past few years, with almost 100,000 more arrests in 2018 than 2015. People in Arkansas are still arrested for marijuana possession and Black people are still disproportionately arrested.
  • A Black person in Arkansas is 2.4 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, despite comparable usage rates.
  • Though these racial disparities have slightly improved since 2010, they are still unacceptable.
  • Although the overwhelming majority of Arkansas counties have racial disparities, Lonoke, Washington, Craighead, Pope, and Crawford have the largest disparities in marijuana arrests, ranging from 4.72x to 9.11x.
  • Overall, these disparities have not improved. Nationally, a Black person is 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, even though Black and white people use marijuana at similar rates. 
  • Overall, in states that legalized marijuana, arrest rates decreased after legalization while racial disparities remained.

A Tale of Two Countries: Racially Targeted Arrests in the Era of Marijuana Reform comes at a time when the criminal legal system is overwhelmed by the COVID-19 public health crisis that demands expedited decarcercal action to safeguard the lives of those incarcerated in and employed by jails and prisons. The reforms recommended in this report provide a road map for reducing marijuana arrests and criminalization as governors, prosecutors, judges, and other stakeholders across the country grapple with the harms presented by the public health crisis and take steps to release people from jails and prisons.

To combat the racial disparities rampant in marijuana-related arrests, the ACLU of Arkansas is calling not only for an end to racialized policing, but also for full legalization of marijuana use and possession and specific measures to ensure legalization efforts are grounded in racial justice. This includes pressing for passage of the MORE Act, which aims to correct historical injustices of the failed War on Drugs that has terrorized Black communities and decriminalizes marijuana at the federal level, reassesses marijuana convictions, and invests in economically disadvantaged communities. 

The full report is available here: