Arresting Latinos for Marijuana in California: Possession Arrests in 33 Cities, 2006-08



  • In the last twenty years, California made 850,000 arrests for possessing small amounts of marijuana, and half a million arrests in the last ten years, disproportionately of young Latinos and blacks.
  • U.S. government surveys consistently find that young Latinos use marijuana at lower rates than young whites.  Yet from 2006 through 2008, major cities in California arrested and prosecuted Latinos for marijuana possession at double to nearly triple the rate of whites.
  • In the City of Los Angeles, where one in ten Californians live, police arrested Latinos for marijuana possession at twice the rate of whites.
  • In San Jose, the third largest city in the state, Latinos are 31% of the population but 54% of those arrested for marijuana possession.  Police in San Jose arrested Latinos at 2.2 times the rate of whites.
  • In the twenty years from 1990 to 2009, the marijuana possession arrest rate of Latino teenagers in California more than tripled.

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Harry G. Levine, PhD, Sociology Department, Queens College, City University of New York; Jon B. Gettman, PhD, Criminal Justice Department, Shenandoah University, Winchester, VA; and Loren Siegel, JD, LS Consulting, Brooklyn, NY.  Prepared by The Marijuana Arrest Research Project for the Drug Policy Alliance and the William C. Velasquez Institute.  October 2010.  Cf. “Some 55 percent of Latinos oppose the measure [Proposition 19 legalizing pot], as do 62 percent of Chinese Americans and 75 percent of Korean Americans.  Non-Hispanic whites remain evenly split (46 percent pro and against).  Only African Americans narrowly favor legalization, 45 percent to 40 percent.  Yet the strong negative numbers in ethnic communities do not tell the whole story, says Mark DiCamillo, the Field Poll’s director.  ‘There is a huge generational gap,’ DiCamillo says.  ‘Younger ethnic voters are following their peers.’  Some 49 percent of ethnic voters ages 18-34 say they support legalization, while 38 percent oppose it.  By comparison, only 21 percent of ethnic voters in the 66-plus age group favor legalization, versus 64 percent who oppose it” (Sandip Roy, “CA Ethnic Voters: Anti-Pot, Pro-Environment, Pro-Budget Reform,” New America Media, 31 October 2010); and “At a press conference hosted by Yes on 19 Wednesday, the National Association of Latino Officers became the latest in a string of large minority groups to endorse the marijuana legalization measure.  The group cited a report . . . that illustrates the disproportionate criminalization of Latinos for marijuana possession” (Lauren Rosenfeld, “Latino Police Officers Say Yes on Prop to Legalize Marijuana,” The Mission Blog of the San Francisco Chronicle, 29 October 2010).

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