Gretchen Schuldt
Court Watch

85% of County’s Pot Cases Arrest Blacks

And 95% were men. Dane County arrests are even more disproportionate racially.

By , Wisconsin Justice Initiative - Jul 29th, 2019 01:20 pm

Marijuana plant. Photo by Jennifer Martin (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

Marijuana plant. Photo by Jennifer Martin (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

People in Dane and Milwaukee counties were far less likely to be charged with marijuana crimes last year than were people in other counties in the state, but those charged in those two places were more likely to be African-American and male than in other counties, according to a review of 2018 cannabis cases in Wisconsin.

The review, a joint effort of the Wisconsin Justice Initiative and the American Constitution Society Milwaukee Lawyer Chapter, thus far has covered 24 counties, or one-third of the 72 counties in the state.

Some findings:

Milwaukee County had the largest gender gap among cannabis case defendants. A whopping 95 percent of the 288 people charged with marijuana crimes or misdemeanors were men, far more than in most counties reviewed thus far. Dane County, where 90 percent of 125 defendants were male, had the second-highest share of male defendants.

Green County, where there were just 27 criminal cannabis cases last year, came in third. Twenty-four of the defendants, or 89 percent, were men.

Forest County may have had more female marijuana defendants than male. If so, it would be the only county reviewed thus far where the number of female defendants exceeded the number of male defendants. There were 19 men and 23 women charged with cannabis crimes last year, but there also were seven charged whose genders are listed as “unknown” in online court records. The actual genders of those seven would determine whether Forest County actually was a female-majority cannabis defendant county.

(And yes, we understand that gender is not necessarily binary, but it is for court purposes.)

Dane County was the least likely among the 24 counties to issue criminal cannabis charges against anyone. Dane County filed one criminal case containing a marijuana charge for every 4,339 county residents. Milwaukee County, which filed a cannabis case for every 3,292 residents, had the second-lowest rate.

Gender of cannabis criminal case defendants in 2018

Gender of cannabis criminal case defendants in 2018

Milwaukee County was number one when it comes to the share of cannabis defendants charged who were African American – 85 percent. Dane County was second, with 68 percent of defendants being African American.

Dane County’s defendants were more disproportionately African-American than were Milwaukee County’s because Dane County’s 5 percent black population share is so much smaller than Milwaukee County’s 27 percent.

The share of cannabis defendants charged in Dane County who were black was 63 percentage points higher than the black share of the county population; in Milwaukee County, the difference was 58 percentage points. The third place finisher was Fond du Lac County, where the difference was 31 percentage points.

Race of cannabis criminal case defendants in 2018

Race of cannabis criminal case defendants in 2018

As these charts illustrate, there is not much that is consistent in cannabis enforcement in Wisconsin. Two people engaged in similar conduct in different counties may well be treated very differently by the criminal justice system.

Follow along as we document the wildly erratic enforcement of cannabis laws in Wisconsin. Additional data for each county is posted on The 2019 Pot Page.

Gretchen Schuldt writes a blog for Wisconsin Justice Initiative, whose mission is “To improve the quality of justice in Wisconsin by educating the public about legal issues and encouraging civic engagement in and debate about the judicial system and its operation.

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