(The Center Square) – A new report found black people were seven times more likely to be arrested in Illinois for marijuana offenses than their white counterparts.
The American Civil Liberties Union report was conducted before state lawmakers legalized recreational marijuana on Jan 1.
The report said Illinois had the third-highest rate of bias in cannabis arrests in the U.S., surpassed only by Montana and Kentucky.
Ben Ruddell, a Criminal Justice Policy Director with the ACLU, said the pattern was not new to Illinois.
“It has been established for a long time, not with regard to marijuana arrests, but with regard to all arrests for drug offenses,” he said.
The report showed racial disparities in a number of Illinois counties, including in Tazewell County, where black people were 43 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people.
A request for a comment from the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office was not returned.
Ruddell said he thinks black neighborhoods across the state are over-policed, leading to more arrests.
State Rep. Kelly Cassidy was the lead sponsor of the cannabis legalization law in Illinois. She said one of the big reasons such legislation was needed was to address racial disparities in the way laws were enforced.
“This data shows how badly we needed to take that step,” Cassidy said. “We need to ensure that laws around cannabis or other drugs are not enforced with this sort of bias.”