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Marijuana Arrests Still Disproportionately Affecting Hispanics, Blacks

Broad legalization of marijuana in 2018 has brought many changes to the marijuana industry along with the criminal justice system’s treatment of the controversial drug. According to a recent article by the Associated Press, with the advent of legalization, the number of felony marijuana arrests in California continued its decline into 2019, but a more insidious fact did not change.  According to the state’s numbers, despite the overall decrease, the remaining arrest continued to fall disproportionately on Hispanics and Blacks.

Minorities Arrested At Higher Rates In California

In its yearly review of crime within California that was released earlier this month, The California Department of Justice reported that there were 1,181 felony cannabis arrests last year, down from 1,617 in 2018, the inaugural year of legalization. That represents a decline of 27%.

However, taking a deeper look into the data reveals that Hispanics accounted for nearly 42% of those arrests, followed by Blacks, at 22%, and Whites at 21%. Other demographic groups made up the remainder.

According to Ellen Komp, deputy director of the California division of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, also known as NORML, the disproportionate figures directly illustrate the difficulty and the barriers many Hispanics and Blacks have faced entering the legal market, which requires hefty startup costs, taxes and licensing fees.

The report did not include a breakdown of the charges faced by the two groups, but they could include such violations as unlicensed cultivation and sales of marijuana, or sales to a minor.


NORML Study Indicates Black Four Times As Likely As Whites To Be Arrested For Weed

Despite marijuana arrests being down last year, and the number of felony arrests last year at its lowest figure since 1954, NORML reports that Blacks were over 4 times more likely than Whites to be placed under arrest for a marijuana related crime in California in 2019. Hispanics were about twice as likely as Whites to be arrested.

California largely legalized marijuana in January 2018, after voters approved the move in 2016. In the eyes of the law, marijuana is treated like alcohol, with people aged 21 and older now legally permitted to possess up to an ounce and grow up to six marijuana plants at home. In order to grow, sell, or manufacture marijuana legally, one must be licensed by the state.

Still, thriving black market sales, which do not include the substantial taxes that can reach almost 50% in some areas, continue to outsell the legal market.

For years police and law enforcement agencies have been taken to task over the discriminatory marijuana arrest rates of Blacks and Hispanics. Now with the drug legalized, advocacy groups are wondering why law enforcement continues to disproportionately target people of color for illegal grow operations and sale. Some believe these figures are merely another example of institutional racism rearing its ugly head.

According to a study done by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Blacks are 3.6 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana, even though both groups consume at similar rates. It is the hope of groups like the ALCU that this data can serve as the catalyst to reform in law enforcement for states like California so that diverse groups have more opportunities to legally enter the marijuana market.


Aaron Pelley

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