A recent report into the enforcement of drug laws shows a shocking bias against Black and Asian communities, despite evidence that their rates of drug use are much lower than in the white majority.

The research by drug laws charity Release and the London School of Economics based its conclusions on data from the Home Office and from the Metropolitan Police, who are responsible for over 50% of the searches in the UK.

The report found that people identifying themselves as white were nearly twice as likely to have used illegal drugs in the past year as any other ethnic group. Despite this, compared to white people:

  • Black people were stopped and searched for drugs over 6 times as often;
  • Asian people were stopped and searched 2½ times as often; and
  • those identifying as mixed race were stopped and searched twice as often.

The report cast doubt on the usefulness of stop and search, as only 7% of searches resulted in an arrest. However, where cocaine was found:

  • nearly 80% of Black people were charged, compared to 44% of whites; and
  • while 56% of white people were cautioned rather than prosecuted, the number dropped to only 22% where the suspect was Black.

For those who ended up in court, the racial bias appeared to continue. At the Magistrate’s Court, when compared to white people Black people were:

  • 4½ times more likely to be convicted of a possession offence;
  • 5 times more likely to receive a prison sentence if convicted; and
  • 6 times more likely to receive immediate custody, rather than a suspended sentence.

It is nearly 15 years since the Macpherson Report into the death of Stephen Lawrence coined the term ‘Institutional Racism’, and made over 70 recommendations for change.

The findings of this more recent study suggest that there may still be many lessons left to learn.