Dave Ress wrote an article in the Daily Press with the title “Marijuana charges and convictions fall more heavily on black Virginians.” This was the front page story, and this title implies obvious discrimination. But let’s look at the facts as published in the article.
The claim: Whites charged with marijuana possession in Virginia are more likely to get a second chance, while blacks are far more likely to spend time behind bars. The data show the pattern holds for all marijuana charges, for first offenders and for first offenders who were not charged with any other offense when arrested.
The analysis: What is missing in this argument are two key pieces of data that the two page article never addresses. PRIOR CONVICTIONS OF OFFENDERS AND AMOUNT OF MARIJUANA POSSESSED. That’s right. No where in the article or plethora of data does the mention of the arrested individuals prior convictions come into play or how much marijuana they possessed at the time of arrest.
You may be saying to yourself, this is obviously racism. Delegate Mike Mullin D-Newport News, jumped on the analysis of data by saying, “This is something I kind of knew, I felt it in my gut, but we never had the numbers.” But envision you are the judge, and two people are in front of you for a first time marijuana offense, with no other offense charged at the time of their arrest which is how Dave Ress presents this data. But you see that one of the individuals has a prior conviction and the other does not. One individual has ten pounds of marijuana, the other had one ounce. Could this be the difference in one getting jail time and the other getting probation? You bet. Facts don’t lie but it is helpful to have all of the facts before publishing an article that will infer racism when there is none.
Mr. Ress’s article admits that white offenders are more likely than black offenders to plead guilty when appearing in court. They are taking responsibility for their actions so could this be the reason the judge looks upon them more leniently? This is also never mentioned as a possible reason for the disparity.
Jon Gettman, a Shenandoah University professor of criminal justice whose research focuses on drug policy states:“This is a simple matter of outcomes — and the outcomes are unacceptable,” he said. “We need to find out how these disparities occur and do what we can to eliminate them.
This is yet another case of equal outcome, not equal opportunity. These individuals want the same percentage of black and white people arrested and doing jail time, regardless of their past run -ins with the law.
Ian Tuttle is a William F. Buckley Jr. Fellow states: “Since police are likely to focus more on marijuana sellers than on users, are blacks more likely to sell? Are they more likely to use or sell in the open, rather than secretly? Are they using or selling in areas where there is a greater police presence? If the answers align with those for other kinds of arrests, there is little reason to attribute the racial disparity in marijuana arrests to discrimination.”
While Mr. Tuttle’s statement specifically addresses the number of blacks arrested compared to whites as opposed to the amount of jail time received at sentencing, it brings up another important piece of the puzzle. Judges determine sentencing based on intent to distribute. Combine this with the missing statistics on whether the individual arrested for marijuana possession had any prior offenses, and you have enough reason to doubt the validity of Mr Ress’s argument that marijuana convictions fall more heavily on black Virginians as a matter of racism.
The goal of this seed planting article is for marijuana reform, plain and simple. If the argument is made that arresting people for first time marijuana use is construed as racist, then we are closer to making a change to the Virginia law and that’s exactly how Mr. Ress article ends. “Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. “Tommy” Norment Jr., R-James City, who has seen scores of marijuana possession cases in his private practice as a lawyer, tried for a reform — the first in more than three decades — of Virginia’s marijuana possession by eliminating the current penalty of up to 30 days in jail for a first offense.” Mr. Norment states: ““That can follow you forever,” Norment has said, arguing for his approach. “I represent a lot of young people, a lot of college students. … I’m looking to give some of these people a hand, provided they do what they’re supposed to.”
Let them know how you feel about this article –
David Ress can be reached by telephone at 757-247-4535
Tommy Norment contact info:
P.O. Box 6205
Williamsburg, VA 23188