By Kat Russell, The Gazette
A black person in Iowa is 7.3 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, according to an ACLU study of national law enforcement data.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union analysis, Iowa ranked as the fifth-worst state in the nation when it comes to racial disparities in marijuana arrests. Only Montana, Kentucky, Illinois and West Virginia had higher racial disparities.
The arrest rate for marijuana possession in Iowa is 133.82 per 100,000 residents. Blacks are arrested at a rate of 776.28 per 100,000 of the black population. Whites are arrested at the rate of 106.9 per 100,000 of the white population.
Approximately 4 percent of Iowans are black, according to the study. Iowa consistently has one of the highest rates in the nation for locking up black people, with a black person in Iowa being 11 times more likely to be incarcerated than a white person.
In Linn County, the study found that a black person was 10 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person.
The Cedar Rapids Police Department said in a statement the department has not had a chance to analyze the report and compare it to the department’s data.
“The Cedar Rapids Police Department actively and positively engages with all members of our community,” the statement said. “It has obtained and continues to pursue training opportunities, including implicit bias training, and strictly prohibits any form of biased-based policing.”
The Linn County Sheriff’s Office had no immediate comment.
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A handful of other Iowa counties were called out for their “disturbingly high racial disparity rates.”
In Pottawattamie County, a black person is more than 17 times more likely to be arrested, the report said. In Dubuque County, a black person is roughly 13 times more likely to be arrested. In Cerro Gordo County, in north-central Iowa, the rate was more than 11 times higher.
Marijuana possession arrests are the major driver of drug arrests in Iowa, according to the ACLU, making up 55 percent of all drug arrests,
The ACLU said studies indicate disparities in arrests are not occurring because people of color commit more crimes.
Other factors, it said, drive the disparities, including overpolicing of black communities and communities of color, implicit bias in law enforcement, racial profiling and poverty.
“(These shameful statistics show) that it’s urgent that Iowa reform our criminal laws and policing practices,” ACLU of Iowa Executive Director Mark Stringer said in a news release. “The data reflects ongoing systemic discrimination against black people in Iowa, an outrageous violation of equal protection under our Constitution.”
In 2013, in a similar ACLU national study, Iowa was ranked last in the nation when it came to racial disparities in arrests for marijuana possession, with black people being eight times more likely to be arrested than a white person, even though both groups use marijuana at about the same rate.
Eleven states have legalized marijuana and another 15 states have decriminalized possession of the drug.
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“This is unacceptable,” Stringer said. “Other states are decriminalizing and legalizing marijuana, and our state needs to move toward doing the same.”
In the report, the ACLU touts the legalization or decriminalization of marijuana as the key to correcting racial disparities in arrest rates.
“If legalization is not yet achievable, states should, at a minimum, decriminalize marijuana offenses,” the report stated.
The organization also called for federal, state and local governments to grant clemency or resentence anyone incarcerated on a marijuana conviction and expunge all marijuana convictions and to do away with collateral consequences that result from marijuana arrests or convictions.
“We cannot undo the harms perpetuated by marijuana prohibition, but we can chart a smarter, fairer future that uplifts and repairs the people and communities most harmed by criminalization,” the report said.
The study used data — from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program; supplementary data from jurisdictions not included in FBI report; and the U.S. Census’ annual county population estimates — to document arrest rates per 100,000 for marijuana possession, by race, at the state and county level.
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