Data Shows Black People in Philadelphia Are Still Targeted After Pot Decriminalization

Despite the decriminalization of cannabis in Philadelphia four years ago, African-Americans in the city are still being disproportionately charged with marijuana offenses by police. The city decriminalized possession of less than 30 grams of cannabis with an ordinance passed in 2014.

But arrests for possession are still made, and purchasing marijuana is still a criminal offense. In the four years since decriminalization, Black people—who represent 44 percent of the city’s population—made up 76 percent of all arrests for marijuana possession. The defendants in 81 percent of arrests for buying cannabis were Black.

The discrepancies exist despite numerous studies that have shown that White people and Black people use cannabis at comparable rates. David Rudovsky is a civil rights attorney who has filed racial bias lawsuits against the City of Philadelphia. He said in an email to local media that the racial disparity is unjustified.

“Given the equal use of marijuana by persons of different races, the fact that 80 percent of the arrests continue to be of Black suspects cannot be justified on the grounds that more Blacks than Whites possess marijuana,” said Rudovsky.

No Explanation from Police

Captain Sekou Kinebrew of the Philadelphia Police Department said that most arrests for

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