Significant racial disparities exist in marijuana enforcement in the City of Milwaukee. In 2011, African Americans were over five times more likely to get arrested than white people, despite similar rates of usage. Even as the total number of arrests decreased slightly from 2010 to 2011, the disparity of Black vs. white arrests increased. Criminal record for simple possession creates a lifetime of collateral damage. The punishment should fit the crime.
Decriminalizing marijuana possession (making the penalty for possession a municipal citation, like a parking ticket) will remove many nonviolent offenders from our criminal justice system. Alderman Nik Kovac and Alderman Ashanti Hamilton have put forward an ordinance to do this, and remove the automatic felony referral for a second offense of possessing a small amount of marijuana. It would also lower the maximum fine from $500 to $5, sending less people into the corrections system due to inability to pay the ticket.
“Forty percent of the African American males from Milwaukee County incarcerated since 1990 were drug offenders. In the early 1990s African Americans had 4 times as many annual admissions for drug-related offenses as white men. As drug offenses soared in the 2002 to 2005 years African American men had 11 to 12 times as many drug-related prison admissions as white men.” (Wisconsin’s Mass Incarceration of African American Males[i] Report)
Changing public opinion increasingly favors more sensible drug policy and a new approach to marijuana. We encourage the Common Council to take action on this important racial justice issue immediately by supporting lower fines for it. Please call your representative on the Common Council today to educate them about this important issue.
[i] Lois Quinn and John Pawersat