Iowa Ranks Worst in Racial Disparity of Marijuana Arrests

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KIMT News 3 – It’s an issue not often discussed, but today, racial disparity is putting Iowa at the top of the list and that’s not a good thing.

According to a study by the American Civil Liberties Union or ACLU, Iowa has the largest racial disparity for marijuana possession arrests in the country.

“I mean this is a nationwide issue this isn’t just something that happened here in Mason City or in Des Moines. It’s happening nationwide that we’re being ear marked as the worst of the worst,” said Lionel Foster of the Mason City Human Rights Commission.

By the numbers, a Black Americans in Iowa are eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than White Americans even though both groups use marijuana at about the same rate according to the ACLU study.

For Foster, it’s an alarming statistic that he says will affect more than just minorities, but business as well.

“It’s not only bad for businesses, it’s bad for perspective businesses who want to come to Iowa, that’s my thinking. If they bring a African-American employees, or corporate officials in Iowa, can they expect that their going to be stopped and searched for drugs because of this study,” said Foster.

Foster goes on to explain how he feels this should be a wake up call for Iowa lawmakers to check what Iowa is doing to find itself on this list.

For Cerro Gordo County Attorney, Carlyle Dalen, it was a chance to check his own office, when it comes to those types of cases.

“I think the first time I heard about the study, it really made me think about evaluating myself, evaluating my office to make sure that I was not part of the problem,” said Dalen.

Although, despite the statistics, he believes that Cerro Gordo county has taken the right steps to hopefully set the trend for the rest of the state.

“When we check any case, race is not considered and so I think those are things that encourage common sense looking at files, common sense prosecution. They have nothing to do with race. Race should not be considered,” said Dalen.

The study also broke down data by county, with Dubuque County having the worst racial disparities in Iowa, followed by Woodbury County, Johnson County, Linn County, and Clinton County.

Of the seven states listed in the ACLU’s study, four were right here in the Midwest, including Minnesota who was not far behind Iowa, at third.


The full report, “The War on Marijuana in Black and White,” is available here.

Iowa specifics are available on the ACLU of Iowa website here.

For a chart on Iowa’s five counties with the largest disparities, click here.

For a chart with data on Iowa’s most heavily populated counties, click here.

To view Iowa marijuana arrests over the last 10 years, click here.

For a county-by-county breakdown of the data in Iowa, click here.


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