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Marijuana: Major Increase In St. Louis County Pot Arrests Over Last Decade, ACLU Says

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Over the past decade, the number of marijuana arrests in St. Louis county has steadily climbed to levels four times greater than in 2001.

"They seem to be prioritizing marijuana arrests in St. Louis county," John Chasnoff, program director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri, tells Daily RFT. "The war on drugs is increasingly becoming a war on marijuana."

Chasnoff is referencing data from a recently released national ACLU report on the rates of pot charges across the country.

Given that the county -- which is entirely separate from the city of St. Louis -- is divided into dozens of separate police departments, it's tough to pinpoint a direct cause of the increase. Still, one thing is clear: More people are getting arrested for pot possession.

See also:
- Report: Black Missouri Drivers Face Disproportionate Number of Police Searches
- Marijuana Reform Now St. Louis Law, Chief Dotson Says Will Improve Prosecutions
- St. Louis Cannabis Conference: Pro-Legalization Cop Says "Public is Waking Up"

The data comes from the ACLU's report called "The War On Marijuana In Black And White," which examines racial data in states and counties of the U.S. As we reported yesterday, the central finding of the study is that, nationally, there are significant racial disparities in arrests with blacks on average facing pot possession charges four times as often as whites -- despite overall equal usage rates.

The report calls out the city of St. Louis as an extreme example with an eighteen-to-one black-to-white ratio in arrests. Metropolitan Police Chief Sam Dotson defended the department's policies in an interview with us, saying that there is no racial profiling or targeting of any kind at SLMPD. He argues that the numbers reflect the calls the department receives and the searches that take place when individuals are arrested and on bench warrants.

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Since publishing our story, the ACLU has provided Daily RFT with more specific data on St. Louis county, showing one major trend -- an increase in arrests.

In 2001, there was a total of 129 arrests per 100,000 residents. And in 2010, the most recent available federal data, that number was 493 per 100,000. In between, that number grew at a fairly steady rate (220 in 2006, for example).

In total, in 2010, there were 2,556 black arrests, 2,346 white arrests and 4,928 total. (In 2001, that total was 1,312).

"It's hard to imagine that there was a corresponding increase in the use of marijuana," Chasnoff says about the county data. "You can only chalk it up to an increased prioritizing."

In terms of racial breakdown, in the county, the disparity is much smaller than in the city of St. Louis -- but still exists.

Over the last decade, police in the county have on average arrested blacks for marijuana possession about three times more often than whites.

"A disparity of three-to-one is nothing to dismiss," Chasnoff says.

Further, because the numbers overall are rising, that means more people are potentially facing racially biased pot policing, which, the ACLU argues, is ineffective and a waste of money.

"If you have a disparity and you increase the overall numbers, you are increasing the overall number of people that are affected by that disparity," he says.

With this data, it'd be difficult to trace the rise back to a single department. The St. Louis County Police Department only represents about 40 percent of the county, which is why a spokesman tells Daily RFT he would not be able to comment on these broad numbers.

It's worth noting that in the city of St. Louis -- which is considered its own separate county in federal data -- the number of marijuana arrests has actually declined substantially.

Here's the St. Louis county arrest data from the ACLU followed by the full report.

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ACLU
St. Louis county data.

ACLU The War On Marijuana

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin.

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12 comments
Brian Boyd
Brian Boyd

Small amounts result in a 'traffic ticket' in the city. This is just a clever way to boost revenue without a trial or housing the criminals. There will now be more people busted with pot than ever before.

Adam Usher
Adam Usher

Yeah Slay does not support reform.

Melissa Hamilton Benetin
Melissa Hamilton Benetin

It still isn't "allowed" in the city. Small amounts are just more like a traffic ticket instead of criminal. And people who support full legalization should not re elect slay, he has said numerous times he DOES NOT support legalization.

Jay Love
Jay Love

Its funny how the aclu always turn it into race..fuckin libtards... somebody shoot Jesse Jackson please ( figuratively of course)

Esteban Mainzer
Esteban Mainzer

liberals hate reality, obviously. the city is a sh*thole.

Suzie Gilb
Suzie Gilb

Yeah, nobody gets robbed in the county, obviously.

Esteban Mainzer
Esteban Mainzer

" The mayor has a clever way of increasing the population in the city of st. louis by allowing pot in small quantities." and criminals have a clever way of robbing those people.

Thomas Thale
Thomas Thale

These county people need to move into the city of st. louis. The mayor has a clever way of increasing the population in the city of st. louis by allowing pot in small quantities. i predict that the city will double in size plus in the next election Slay will win by the largest vote ever!

Couch Pig
Couch Pig

they broke into my house stole my plants and tried to give me life in prison...To bad they broke in society could of been a better place without me menacing it with my pot

JamesMadison
JamesMadison topcommenter

Meaningless stats without more information. Until you know whether or not blacks actually carry more weed than whites, you cannot draw any honest conclusions. Next you need to determine of county blacks are more likely to be weed users. These are unanswerable stats since few will give honest answers.

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