New Report Ranks Texas 2nd in Nation for Total Marijuana Possession Arrests; Two Texas Counties in Nation’s Top 5 for Racial Discrimination

CONTACT: Tom Hargis, Director of Communications, ACLU of Texas, 832.291.4776, [email protected]

HOUSTON – On Thursday the ACLU of Texas targeted 15 local law-enforcement agencies in 12 counties for racially biased drug enforcement, citing arrests of blacks at far greater rates than whites. The counties, which stretch north and south across East Texas into the state’s two most populous centers, topped lists for racial disparity in marijuana-possession arrests, according to a study released this week by the ACLU. Letters to officials in the 12 counties demand changes in law enforcement policies and practices.

“The report by the ACLU shows that racism remains alive, well, and entrenched in Texas,” said Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas. “This data is clear evidence that police target blacks for marijuana use. And nowhere in Texas is this practice as prevalent as in a corridor stretching from Houston, up through East Texas, into the Dallas-Fort Worth area.”

Blacks and whites use marijuana at roughly equal rates.  But the report, Marijuana in Black and White: Billions of Dollars Wasted on Racially Biased Arrests, shows that blacks are 2.3 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession in Texas.

In the 12 counties targeted by the ACLU, blacks were much more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession – with the worst offenders, the Van Zandt and Cooke County Sheriff’s Departments, arresting blacks at more than 20 times the rate of whites. Van Zandt and Cooke are the first- and fourth-worst offenders in the country, according to the report.

“We’re putting county sheriffs and police chiefs on notice of the egregious racial disparities in their arrest rates,” said Rebecca L. Robertson, legal and policy director at the ACLU of Texas. “These departments are enforcing drug laws along color lines and that is intolerable. Law enforcement agencies must investigate the causes of these shocking racial disparities and take steps to correct the problem.”

The ACLU report is the first ever to examine state and county marijuana arrest rates nationally by race. The findings show that while there were pronounced racial disparities in marijuana arrests 10 years ago, they have grown significantly worse nationwide in the last decade.

In 2010, Texas was second in the nation in number of marijuana-possession arrests, which made up more than 53 percent of all drug arrests in the state. In 2010 blacks made up 12.2 percent of the Texas population but accounted for more than a quarter of arrests for marijuana possession.

“The aggressive policing of marijuana is time-consuming, costly, racially biased, and doesn’t work,” said Ezekiel Edwards, director of the Criminal Law Reform Project at the ACLU and one of the primary authors of the report. “These arrests have a significant detrimental impact on people’s lives, as well as on the communities in which they live.”

Texas counties under investigation by the ACLU:

County Blacks more likely to be arrested than whites
Van Zandt 34.7 times more likely*
Cooke** 24.7**
Chambers 9.3
Hopkins 8.4
Waller 6.5
Orange 6.5
Rockwall 6.1
Titus 5.7
Angelina 5.0
Rusk 4.7
Grayson 4.3
Upshur 4.2

*1st in nation
**4th in nation

Other key findings from the report:

  • Five of the nation’s top 15 counties for highest black arrest rates for marijuana possession are in Texas—Chambers (2nd), Cooke (3rd), Kleberg (7th), Hopkins (9th), and Van Zandt (13th).

  • Harris County ranks fourth in the nation for number of blacks arrested for marijuana possession, while Dallas County is among the country’s top 25.

The letters to law enforcement, along with additional Texas-related information, are available at

The full report is available at

Sources for the ACLU report include the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting Program Data and the U.S. Census Data.