The news: A study published by the Archives of General Psychiatry found that African-American teens are less likely to use drugs, including marijuana, than their white or Latino counterparts.
Behind the news: A Chicago Reporter review of criminal court records found that African-American teens still bear the brunt of marijuana charges in Cook County’s courts. When convicted, those adolescents were more likely to face stiffer sentences than their white peers.
Court records show that black teens accounted for eight out of every 10 of the 5,563 misdemeanor marijuana cases opened countywide in the past five years. A vast majority of the teens charged were from the South and West sides of Chicago.
Dan Linn, executive director of the Illinois chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said the disparity has little to do with who is using or dealing marijuana and more to do with how low-income communities of color are policed.
“If you look at usage rates, across the board it’s even,” Linn said. “If anything, Caucasians use cannabis more often.”
Only a fraction, roughly 10 percent, of the criminal charges filed between 2006 and 2010 resulted in a conviction. But the punishments tend to vary by race. White teens were far more likely to be handed community service; black teens were most often put under court supervision, which is essentially a period of time after which, as long as the youth isn’t arrested again, the case is closed.
Only a handful of the cases, 43, ended with a prison sentence during that time. In those cases, however, the Reporter found that black teens were more than eight times more likely to end up behind bars than their white peers.