Marijuana Legalization Doesn’t Stop Racist Enforcement

Marijuana Legalization Doesn’t Stop Racist Enforcement January 30, 2018

Many states have legalized either medical or recreational use of marijuana over the last decade or so, which has dramatically reduced the number of arrests. What it has not done, however, has reduced the clear racial disparities in those arrests. Black people are still many times more likely than white people to be arrested.

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In a recent report by the Drug Policy Alliance, the pro-legalization group documented the effects of marijuana legalization in several states. As expected, marijuana arrests are down dramatically in legal pot states. But arrests remain for, say, possession by people who are under the legal age of 21, unlicensed sales, and public consumption…

Both black and white people are much less likely to be arrested over marijuana, but black people are still much more likely to be arrested for pot in comparison to white people.

Alaska legalized marijuana in 2014, although it did not start sales until 2016. In the state, white and black arrest rates fell by nearly 99 percent and more than 93 percent, respectively, between 2012 and 2016. But black people were arrested for marijuana at a rate of 17.7 per 100,000 in 2016, while white people were arrested at a rate of 1.8 per 100,000 — about 10 times less.

Washington, DC, decriminalized marijuana in 2014, then legalized possession and growing but not sales in a voter-approved ballot initiative that same year. For possession, arrest rates between 2010 and 2016 dropped by more than 99 percent for black people and almost 99 percent for white people. But, again, racial disparities remained: Black people were arrested for possession at a rate of 8 per 100,000 people in 2016, while white people were arrested at a rate of 2 per 100,000 — four times less.

This is similar to what we saw in Colorado, one of the first two states to legalize pot in 2012. A 2016 report from the Colorado Department of Public Safety found, “The decrease in the number of marijuana arrests by race is the greatest for White arrestees (‐51%) compared to Hispanics (‐33%) and African‐Americans (‐25%). The marijuana arrest rate for Whites and Hispanics is comparable, but the marijuana arrest rate for African‐Americans is almost three times that of Whites (348/100,000 for Blacks and 123/100,000 for Whites).”

And as always, Vox notes, these disparities “are not explained by differences in black and white marijuana use rates” because they use marijuana at almost exactly the same rates. This is a result of deliberate decisions in resource allocation and inherent racial biases.

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