Racial disparities in arrests for marijuana possession in New Jersey have widened in the past few years, according to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union, which advocates for the drug to be legalized through the public question on this November’s ballot.

The New Jersey-specific data in the national ACLU report shows that in 2018, black people were arrested at a rate 3.45 times higher than whites despite similar usage rates. The ACLU’s previous report, done in 2017 and based on 2013 data, showed blacks had been arrested at about three times the rate of whites.

The report also finds that between 2010 and 2018, arrests for marijuana possession increased by 45% in the state, said Sarah Fajardo, policy director of the ACLU of New Jersey.

“That’s the ninth highest increase in the nation. So we’re seeing increased rates of arrests and we’re seeing an increase in the racial disparity,” Fajardo said.

New Jersey ranked eighth in the nation for overall marijuana possession arrests per 100,000 people. Its racial disparity in arrest rates was actually slightly below the national disparity of 3.64 times.

The ACLU said the racial disparity in arrest rates was greater than the national average in 15 New Jersey counties. Fajardo said it shows why racial equity should be part of both the campaign advocates wage in favor of the ballot question and the subsequent legislation that would follow.

“The ACLU recommends not only legalizing marijuana use and possession, but we also are recommending ending the enforcement of marijuana possession and distribution, ending racial profiling by police, eliminating consent searches, ending the practice of using raw numbers of stops, citations, summonses, arrests as metrics to measure law enforcement productivity and efficiency,” Fajardo said.

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A proposed constitutional amendment endorsing the legalization of recreational marijuana for use by adults in New Jersey, sold through state-regulated dispensaries, is supported by 61% of registered voters, a Monmouth University poll found last week.

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Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.