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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/STACY RYBURN Stephen Coger with the Arkansas Justice Collective speaks through a microphone Thursday during a forum on the collective's report regarding marijuana arrests and prosecutions at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Fayetteville. About 30 people attended the discussion.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Being arrested or cited for a misdemeanor marijuana offense has a detrimental effect on the person that outweighs the degree of the crime, participants in a town hall on the topic said Thursday.

About 30 residents gathered at St. Paul's Episcopal Church to discuss the findings of a report released last month from the nonprofit Arkansas Justice Collective. The report compares numbers of marijuana arrests and citations by the city's law enforcement from the year 2008 and last year. It also breaks down the demographics of those arrests and citations.

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In 2008, voters approved making misdemeanor marijuana offenses the city's lowest law enforcement and prosecutorial priority. Although the statistics from that year may not be spot on, because some records have been sealed since then, the numbers from last year still show a disparity in marijuana arrests or citations among black people, said Stephen Coger with the collective.

The report states 142 of the 541 arrests or citations given for misdemeanor marijuana offenses were of black people, which comprises 26% of the total. The black population of the city last year was 5,986, or about 7%, according to U.S. Census data.

Of those, 73 were arrested or cited for possession only, equating to 51%, according to the report. By comparison, 103 of the 356 white people caught under a misdemeanor marijuana offense were for possession only, amounting to 29%.

Coger said the collective's determination is black residents in economically disadvantaged parts of town are being unfairly treated.

"We're thinking more broadly about what can Fayetteville do to ensure equitable policing," Coger said. "There's never going to be a police car sitting at Wilson Park waiting to catch people going 27 in a 25."

Samantha Clare, with the Becoming Beloved Community Ministry of St. Paul's, said she and others are working on a proposal to get the city to declare racism a public health crisis. Milwaukee County enacted such a policy in April.

"The impacts of racism are not only economic, but also have implications for health," she said. "When someone has been arrested, there are stress levels. The stress hormones in their body and living in a state of fear impacts growing up, your body functions and your life span."

Madeline Porta, volunteer with the collective, said the matter comes down to policy practice and discretion on the street and in the courtroom that police and prosecutors have now.

"I don't doubt that they take joints and throw them on the ground," she said. "But I think it's important to recognize when that discretion is exercised and who is favored by the discretion, and really focus on that in our conversations."

NW News on 07/12/2019

Print Headline: Marijuana report topic of forum

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