Report: Iowa is among the worst states in racial disparities for marijuana possession arrests

Map of Iowa from the ACLU report on racial disparities in arrests.

Iowa has one of the worst racial disparity problems in the country when it comes to arrests for marijuana possession, according to a report published by the ACLU on Monday. Nationwide, a black person is 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than a white person, but in Iowa, a black person is 7.26 times more likely to be arrested.

Only Montana, Kentucky, Illinois and West Virginia had worse discrepancies in the number of black and white residents arrested for marijuana possession.

“This shameful statistic shows that it’s urgent that Iowa reform our criminal laws and policing practices. The data reflects ongoing systemic discrimination against Black people in Iowa, an outrageous violation of equal protection under our Constitution,” ACLU of Iowa Executive Director Mark Stringer said in a written statement.

The ACLU used data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program (UCR), supplementary data from jurisdictions not included in UCR, and the United States Census Bureau’s annual county population estimates. Because of the time-lag involved in the FBI’s reporting of national crime data, the most recent statistics available are from 2018.

As bad as the racial disparity documented in the reports is, it is a slight improvement over the numbers in a previous ACLU report on the subject. In 2010, black Iowans were 8.45 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white Iowans.

The report also listed the five counties with the largest racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests in each state. Linn County ranked fifth in Iowa. According to the report, black people in Linn were 9.65 times more likely to be arrested for the offense than white people.

Pottawatomie County has the worst rate of disparity in the state, with black people being 17.59 times more likely to be arrested.

The five counties with the largest racial disparities in rates of arrests for marijuana possession.

The racial disparity in arrests for marijuana possession in Johnson County was not listed, but according to the annotation on a map in the report, the county ranks higher than the national average of 3.64.

According to the ACLU, arrests for possession of marijuana make up 55 percent of all drug offense arrests in Iowa in 2018.