ACLU study shows racial disparity in marijuana arrests

African-American residents in Rhode Island are more than twice as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white residents, according to a study by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The study, called "War on Marijuana: In Black and White" was done by the ACLU and looked at 10 years' worth of FBI crime reporting data across the U.S.

For the latest year included, 2010, the study found that African-American residents in Rhode Island were about two-and-a-half times more likely to be arrested than white residents.

In Massachusetts, the number is four times more likely. The national average is three times more likely.

"Even though all the national statistics show blacks and whites use marijuana at roughly equal rates," said Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island Chapter of the ACLU.

Brown said he was surprised at the results of the study.

"That's a horrible way to look at things. It should not be looked at that way. Everyone should be looked at equally," he said.

Brown said what's more disturbing are the arrest rates among African-American residents in Bristol and Washington counties.

"The two counties with the smallest percentage of African-Americans, they were about seven times as likely as whites to be arrested for possession. That's just mind boggling," he said.

Some residents agreed.

"That's unbelievable. If there ain't too many minorities and the arrests are high, something wrong there," said Juan Gibson of Pawtucket.

"Less people that meet that criteria in an environment they stand out more. And thus if there is a bias, it's going to be more obvious," said Rick Crowley of Warwick.

Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare told NBC 10 that anytime there is evidence of disparate treatment it's troubling.

He said there are additional factors that should be analyzed to understand why it's happening and that the study does provide an opportunity for police departments to review their procedures.