Media Contact

Sam Petto, ACLU of Nebraska Communications Director

April 20, 2020

LINCOLN, Neb. – A new ACLU report shows drastic racial disparities persist in marijuana arrests across the country and the Cornhusker state.

“A Tale of Two Countries: Racially Targeted Arrests in the Era of Marijuana Reform” tracks marijuana possession arrests from 2010 to 2018. It shows that in 2018, Black people were three times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession in Nebraska even though Black and white people use marijuana at similar rates.

Although Nebraska’s overall racial disparity in marijuana arrests has declined since 2010, most of Nebraska’s counties reported racial disparities above the national average – including two of the state’s three most-populated counties. In 2018, Black people were six times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people in Lancaster and Sarpy Counties and more than eight times more likely in Buffalo and Adams Counties.

Rose Godinez, legal and policy counsel at the ACLU, says the numbers underscore how significantly misguided drug enforcement efforts have harmed Nebraskans of color.

“Nebraska officials continue to double down on the failed war on drugs, which disproportionately targets Black Nebraskans and needlessly entangles thousands of families in the criminal legal system every year at a tremendous human and fiscal cost.  As more and more states evolve towards more sensible drug policy it’s time Nebraska does the same. This is an issue where policymakers are far behind the pragmatic approach most Nebraskans share, which is that it’s far past time to stop prosecuting low-level drug offenses and to update our laws to recognize this is a huge racial justice issue hurting our communities and exacerbating extreme overcrowding in our county jails and state prisons.”

The new report is an update to the ACLU’s unprecedented national report published in 2013, “The War on Marijuana in Black and White.”Among the new findings:

  • Nationally, in 2018, law enforcement made more marijuana arrests than for all violent crimes combined.
  • In Nebraska alone in 2018, there were almost 8,800 marijuana arrests, the vast majority of which were for possession. 
  • In 2018, marijuana possession arrests accounted for almost half of all Nebraska drug arrests.
  • Ranked against other counties nationwide, Dodge County, Nebraska had the tenth highest arrest rate for marijuana possession per 100,000 people.

Nebraska classifies marijuana as a “Schedule I” controlled substance, putting it in the same category of drugs as cocaine and methamphetamine. Marijuana possession of an ounce or less on first offense is a criminal infraction in Nebraska, punishable by up to a $300 fine. Penalties for multiple convictions or possession of more than that amount can include imprisonment. 

“A Tale of Two Countries” comes at a time when virtually every aspect of the criminal justice system is being challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic. The reforms recommended in the report provide a road map for reducing marijuana arrests and criminalization as governors, prosecutors, judges, and other stakeholders across the country grapple with the harms presented by the public health crisis and as many take steps to reduce these harms by addressing overcrowding in jails and prisons.