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Nov. 4 2009 - 1:33 pm | 154 views | 0 recommendations | 5 comments

If You Decide to Smoke Pot in Pasadena, Make Sure You’re Not Black

A fantastic investigative story that seems to have slipped under the radar in the Pasadena Weekly suggests that African Americans are being disproportionately arrested for marijuana-related offenses in Pasadena.

For the past five years, Pasadena police officers have arrested African Americans on marijuana charges at rates wildly disproportionate to Pasadena’s demographics, according to a review by the Weekly of nearly four decades worth of arrest data.

Between 2004 and 2008, blacks accounted for more than half of all marijuana arrests — three times the number of whites and almost twice the number of Latinos — though blacks make up only 14 percent of the city’s population.

What’s more alarming is that African Americans were arrested on felony marijuana charges in Pasadena at far higher percentages than any other ethnic group, having been charged with more than half of all felony marijuana arrests since 2004, though nearly 90 percent of the marijuana-related offenses during that period were misdemeanors.

These statistics are even more alarming, notes the Weekly, when juxtaposed with recent studies that show white young adults smoke weed at higher rates than other other racial and ethnic groups. Yet blacks are the ones who are getting thrown in prison.

Adding to the disparity is federally collected data showing only minute differences in marijuana use between Latino, black and white users in the 18-to-25 age group, who make up the majority of both marijuana users and arrests. In that age group, 19.6 percent of whites, 16.2 percent of blacks and 11.1 percent of Latinos reported using marijuana in the past 30 days, according to a 2004 Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration survey, which relies on data collected in 2002 and 2003. The 2008 survey of users 12 and older found that 8.3 percent of blacks, 6.2 percent of whites and 4.2 percent of Latinos reported using the drug in the past month — figures that still fail to account for the disparity.

In its investigation, the Weekly notes that Marijuana possession arrests in California have tripled in past 18 years. 61,000 people were arrested for marijuana in 2008 alone — this despite the fact that the state’s prisons are overflowing. Considering 70 percent of California’s prisoners are either black or Latino, I think we know which communities the majority of these arrests are being made in.

Yet another reason for every single Californian to call/write/stalk their assemblyman and get them to support AB 390 — the bill currently being debated in the Assembly Public Safety Committee that would legalize and tax marijuana in the state of California.


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  1. collapse expand

    This is even more disturbing when you consider that other nearby cities, like West Hollywood, have adopted resolutions making pot arrests their lowest priority. I don’t think anyone should get arrested for marijuana possession, but if they do – it should certainly be done unilaterally.

  2. collapse expand

    This is just the kind of subject the old LA Times would have jumped on. I don’t think the Star-News (local daily) has the staff or the inclination to tackle a subject that questions the status quo. An example of where journalism is headed…

  3. collapse expand

    btw – I have been in love with the simplicity and amazingness of your headline

    (dont even ask if i read it…. psshhh – i dont read beyond headlines)

  4. collapse expand

    “These statistics are even more alarming, notes the Weekly, when juxtaposed with recent studies that show white young adults smoke weed at higher rates than other other racial and ethnic groups.”

    I believe it. When a lot of the high school and early-college kids congregate in Old Town or at Paseo, I can always smell the weed. I guess the cops are just swarming all over north and east-side Pasadena.

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    About Me

    'Nobody walks in Los Angeles' you may have heard or read or said to yourself absentmindedly. This is entirely untrue. Plenty of crackheads walk in Los Angeles. Any number of schizophrenics too. And so do I. I'm a journalist who came up through the alternative weekly world, first as a staff writer with the LA Weekly and then as a senior editor of the LA City Beat. I currently write for the Los Angeles Times Magazine among other publications. When I'm not writing I wander, usually by foot.

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