Black residents of Illinois were seven times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession in Illinois before the State regulated purchase and possession at the beginning of this year. In fact, Illinois had the third highest rate of bias in cannabis arrests in the United States, surpassed only by Montana and Kentucky. The ACLU of Illinois noted these figures today in calling for continued vigilance to assure that remaining enforcement of cannabis in Illinois not carry on this legacy of discrimination. 

The data about Illinois’ enforcement is contained in a new national report on cannabis issued by the American Civil Liberties Union. The report, A Tale of Two Countries: Racially Targeted Arrests in the Era of Marijuana Reform details cannabis possession arrests from 2010 to 2018 and updates our unprecedented national report published in 2013, The War on Marijuana in Black and White.  

“The legacy of rank bias in how we enforced cannabis laws in Illinois is clear,” said Ben Ruddell, Criminal Justice Policy Director, ACLU of Illinois. “We should redouble our efforts to ensure that this sort of racially disproportionate policing does not continue under the new State law, especially in those parts of the state where the track record is so abysmal.” 

Racial disparities in a number of Illinois counties were even more jarring. Black people were 43 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession in Tazwell County; it was 24 times more likely in Peoria County and nearly 20 times more likely in Whiteside County.  

Across the U.S., law enforcement made more than 6.1 million cannabis-related arrests from 2010 to 2018, and nationally in 2018, law enforcement made more cannabis arrests than for all violent crimes combined. Despite legalization in a number of states, it is not clear that cannabis arrests are trending downward nationally. National arrest rates have actually risen in the past few years, with almost 100,000 more arrests in 2018 than 2015.

“A big reason for our legislation was to address racial disparities in the way cannabis laws were enforced,” said State Representative Kelly Cassidy, lead sponsor of the cannabis legalization law in Illinois. “This data shows how badly we needed to take that step. But our work is not done. We need to ensure that laws around cannabis or other drugs are not enforced with this same sort of bias.”  

For the full report, click here.