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2021 Pennsylvania data shows widened racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests

Cumberland County saw the largest disparity, with 18.6 times as many Black people arrested for marijuana possession.

PENNSYLVANIA, USA — A new study reveals a higher number of arrests surrounding marijuana possession from last year in Pennsylvania. 

Data from the Pennsylvania State Police shows that 13,000 people were arrested in the commonwealth for marijuana possession in 2021.

According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, the disparity in those arrests based on race spiked upward compared to 2020, despite the overall number falling.

Black Pennsylvanians were arrested for marijuana possession at a rate five times higher than white Pennsylvanians in 2021, based on population, according to the Pa. State Police, with data compiled from local law enforcement agencies.

Lancaster had the lowest disparity, with African American residents arrested for marijuana possession at a rate 2.5 times higher than white residents.

The disparities become greater in surrounding counties. In Dauphin County, there were five times as many Black people arrested for marijuana possession. In York County, that number was seven times. In Lebanon county, 7.8 times. 

Cumberland County had the largest disparity, with 18.6 times as many Black people arrested for marijuana possession. 

FOX43 did not get the opportunity to speak directly with the District Attornies for these counties, though Lebanon County did confirm they have a program that deals with small possessory offenses.

Cumberland County D.A. Seán McCormack said, “Most marijuana possession arrests usually involve some other type of contact between the individual and the police.  Pure statistical numbers hardly give a complete picture of how particular crimes are being charged.”

Still, advocates are raising the alarm on the issue.

“I will say that the numbers moving in the wrong direction is certainly a concern,” Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Cannabis Coalition Meredith Buettner said. “This is all the more reason that we really need to dig into adult use policy here in Pennsylvania, Pennsylvanians.”

Buettner also says they hope to find solutions going forward.

“We can make ourselves available to those folks with the techniques and tools that we can put into legalization protocols to get this problem fixed here in Pennsylvania," Buettner said.

The Pennsylvania State Police declined to comment on the racial disparities, citing that arrest data was compiled from other agencies.

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