PORTLAND, Maine — The American Civil Liberties Union released a national report Wednesday that says black people in Maine are twice as likely as white people to be arrested for marijuana possession, and the Maine ACLU is using the data to support legislation to legalize the drug.
In Maine, LD 1229 would send the question of marijuana legalization directly to the voters. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Diane Russell, appeared on the House calendar Wednesday and will be voted on by the full House and Senate soon.
“The ACLU of Maine supports the bill,” a press release about the 187-page national report and its finding states.
The ACLU’s report, titled “Marijuana in Black and White: Billions of Dollars Wasted on Racially Biased Arrests,” states there were 2,842 arrests for marijuana possession in Maine in 2010, and 75 of them — 2.6 percent — involved black people, even though black people made up only 1.2 percent of the population that year.
“The failed war on drugs has cost Maine millions of dollars and disproportionately swept people of color into the criminal justice system, but it has done little to reduce drug use or availability,” Shenna Bellows, ACLU of Maine executive director, said in the statement. “It’s time to say ‘enough is enough,’ and put our resources into passing reforms that are more fair and do a better job of keeping our communities safe.”
According to the report, it cost law enforcement and the judicial and corrections systems in Maine more than $8.8 million to prosecute marijuana arrests in 2010. The ACLU’s report also states that black people reported using marijuana more often than white people, according to data collected by the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse and Health between 2002 and 2010.
The marijuana use numbers were similar, with 14 percent of black people reporting they used the drug in 2010 compared with 11.6 percent of white survey responders.
Darrell Crandall, Maine Drug Enforcement Agency division commander for northern Maine, said Wednesday that the massive report covers the entire country, not just Maine. He referred all questions to Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, who did not immediately return a request for comment. Portland police Assistant Chief Vern Malloch said he had not read the report and therefore was unable to make a comment.
In a recent editorial column in the Bangor Daily News, Dave Canarie, an attorney and faculty member at the University of Southern Maine School of Business, argued against legalizing pot.
“The Maine Office of Substance Abuse reports a 19.7 percent increase in people seeking treatment for substance abuse in 2012, and a recent study by the RAND Corporation reported a ‘substantial increase’ in people seeking substance abuse treatment for marijuana in the U.S. and other western countries,” Canarie wrote. “Marijuana is among the top four drugs for which Mainers sought substance abuse treatment, along with painkillers, alcohol and heroin.”
A primary author of the ACLU report said criminalizing marijuana makes no sense.
“The aggressive policing of marijuana is time-consuming, costly, racially biased, and doesn’t work,” Ezekiel Edwards, Criminal Law Reform Project director at the ACLU, said in the press release. “These arrests have a significant detrimental impact on people’s lives, as well as on the communities in which they live.”
The ACLU report recommends that states legalize marijuana for people 21 or older through a system of taxation, licensing and regulation. “Legalization is the smartest and surest way to end targeted enforcement of marijuana laws in communities of color, and, moreover, would eliminate the costs of such enforcement while generating revenue for cash-strapped states,” the report says.