STUDY: Despite Legalization, Blacks Arrested for Marijuana at Twice Rate of Peers

By Kenrya Rankin Mar 22, 2016

Activists have long recognized a racial disparity in terms of who is arrested for marijuana possession. In fact, those stats are often used in the argument to legalize the drug. But a new study says that even in states where marijuana use is legal, Black people are still arrested more often than their peers of other races.

Yesterday (March 21), Mike Males of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice released a preliminary data for a report that explores exactly who is being arrested for drugs in the two states that legalized weed for adults, Colorado and Washington. Drawing from data from the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Service, Males compared arrest data from before and after the 2012 legalization and found that while arrest rates dropped in both states from 2008 to 2014, Black people were arrested at more than double the rate of others.

In Washington state, Black people are arrested 2.1 times more than non-Blacks. In Colorado, the disparity is 2.3 times. Males also examined the numbers in the three states that decriminalized marijuana for people of all ages: California, Connecticut and Massachusetts. The disparity is even more staggering there at 2.5, 3.6 and 5.6 times, respectively.

“I am surprised and disappointed by this,” Males told The Washington Post. “The forces that contribute to racial disparities under prohibition are clearly still in place after legalization.”

The American Civil Liberties Union reports that officials have selectively and aggressively enforced marijuana laws in Black communities around the country, negatively impacting eligibility for employment, housing and financial aid, as well as child custody determinations and immigration status.

But the huge overall decrease in arrests does reflect a drop in the actual number of Black people being picked up for marijuana possession. The number of Black people arrested decreased dramatically:

  • California: 82 percent
  • Colorado: 55 percent
  • Connecticut: 69 percent
  • Massachusetts: 82 percent
  • Washington: 91 percent
  • Overall in the states with reformed laws: 80 percent
  • Overall in the other 45 states: 22 percent

As Males told The Washington Post: “I wish the disparity were gone, but having such a huge drop in the number of African Americans being arrested is still a good thing.”