African Americans in Wisconsin are four times more likely than whites to be arrested for violating marijuana possession laws, according to an analysis of 2018 arrest data by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.
The finding is consistent with those of prior analyses. According to a nationwide study by the American Civil Liberties Union, “[O]n average, a Black person is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, even though Blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates.”
The Center’s analysis also reported a slight increase in total marijuana possession arrests in Wisconsin in 2018 to just under 15,000. The counties with the highest percentages of possession arrests per 1,000 people are Green Lake (6.4), Walworth (5.4), Dunn (5.3), Monroe (5.1), and Marinette (5.0). Under state law, low-level marijuana possession offenses are classified as criminal misdemeanors, punishable by up to six-months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Commenting on the state-specific study, University of Wisconsin-Madison sociology professor Pamela Oliver said: “The only possibility for these statistics to happen is for police to be stopping blacks more than whites. … We know the usage patterns are not different, so if you’re generating a difference in arrests, it has to be differential policing.”
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has proposed eliminating both criminal and civil penalties for minor marijuana possession offenses, stating, “[W]e are spending too much money prosecuting and incarcerating people – and often persons of color – for non-violent crimes related to possessing small amounts of marijuana.”