The two largest cities in the United States are still unfairly punishing black residents when it comes to minor marijuana offences, according to recent studies of drug crime in Los Angeles and New York.

According to a recent story in Business Insider, more than nine out of every 10 people in New York City arrested on suspicion of marijuana possession and sale were people of color. The data was collected from from January to March of this year, and was obtained by Police Reform Organizing Project from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services.

The Business Insider piece notes that marijuana use is nearly identical amongst black and white Americans, so it's difficult to explain why blacks are arrested at such a disproportionately high rate.

Steve Zeidman, a law professor at City University of New York and a longtime police reform advocate, said it had to do with the high level of policing in predominantly black neighbourhoods.

"Think of it this way," he said. "Let's say 50 cops are patrolling a black neighborhood (designated by the NYPD as 'high-crime') and 5 cops are patrolling a white neighborhood. In which neighborhood is a teenager smoking a joint more likely to be seen and arrested?"

California cities also arresting black residents at higher rates

Police in Los Angeles are also arresting black citizens at much higher rates than whites, according to data analysed by Drug Policy Alliance and ACLU of California.

In Los Angeles, approximately one in 532 black people are cited for a marijuana possession infraction, as compared to 1 in 1,351 Latinos and 1 in 1,923 white people.

The Drug Policy Alliance/ACLU also looked at data for the city of Fresno, California, and the situation was even worse. Approximately one out of every 200 black people are issued marijuana infractions there, as compared to one in 457 Latinos and one in 800 white people.

Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, Criminal Justice and Drug Policy director for the ACLU of California, said the high arrest rates make life especially difficult for low-income black and latino citizens across California.

"Racial disparities in marijuana enforcement are widespread and longstanding. Los Angeles and Fresno are very different places; yet they reveal similar disparities. It's likely that young black and Latino Californians experience these disparities statewide. A $100 citation can easily become several times that, after all the fees are added. This presents a significant burden for young people and low-income families."

Alice Huffman, president of the CA-Hawaii NAACP, said she hopes the problem will be largely resolved if California votes for legalization this fall.

"It is disappointing to see that even at the level of infractions, California law enforcement are incapable of applying the law equally across racial lines," she said. "I am hopeful that full legalization as proposed in the Adult Use of Marijuana Act will drastically reduce the numbers of young people of color being funnelled into the criminal justice system for minor drug offenses."

h/t Business Insider.