Drug Trafficking: Prejudiced Assumptions?

Carl Williams was dismissed as superintendent of NJ’s state police after publicly defending racial profiling on the grounds that “mostly minorities” traffic in marijuana and cocaine. Williams’ remarks reflect a widely-held view. This view has been nurtured by racially-biased profiles of drug couriers, profiles developed by agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Agency. The view has been reinforced by police practices which disproportionately target black and Latino communities for drug busts and then use the arrests made in these raids as “evidence” that drug use and trafficking is predominantly a “minority” problem.

What are the facts about drug use in the U.S.?

Of an estimated 13.3 million illicit drug users, nearly ten million (72%) are white. Only two million drug users are black. Among blacks, illicit drug use is slightly higher (8.2% of the population aged 12 and older uses drugs) than it is among whites (6.1%) and Hispanics (6.1%).

Marijuana/hashish is the most common illicit drug used and accounts for more than 80% of illicit drug use. The racial/ethnic breakdown of marijuana/ hashish users is comparable to the breakdown for overall illicit drug use.

Less than 2 million persons in the U.S. use cocaine (less than 1% of the 12 and over population). Rates of cocaine use among blacks (1.3%) and Hispanics (1.3%) are higher than for whites (0.7%) in the 12 and over population. However, the actual number of white cocaine users is 3.5 times as great as the number of black cocaine users (1.13 million vs. 0.32 million).

Racial inequities in arrest and prosecution of drug offenders

Racial profiling and racial inequities in the prosecution and sentencing of persons for drug offenses has had a dramatic and negative impact on the black community in the U.S.

U.S. population: 13% are black
Drug users: 13% are black
Those arrested on drug charges: 37% are black
Those convicted of drug offenses: 55% are black
Those sentenced for drug offenses: 74% are black


The above data show that blacks are not disproportionately represented in the population of drug users. However, they are disproportionately represented in the arrest process and the disproportion increases at each stage thereafter.

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