Marijuana Arrests Still Disproportionate Toward Minorities

One of the benefits of expanding marijuana legalization across the country is that it has afforded an opportunity to correct themarijuana criminal defense disparity in marijuana arrests along race and socio-economic lines. These disparities have negatively impacted black people, Hispanics, and other oppressed groups. The efforts, however, are not producing immediately successful results. A report from New Frontier Data is showing that even now black and Hispanic suspects are arrested at nine times the rate of suspects who are white, despite the fact that data shows the three subgroups sell cannabis at similar rates.

According to the data, from 1997 to 2016, marijuana arrests made up more than 40 percent of drug-related arrests, totaling 15.7 million. Arrests overall from cannabis-related offenses have declined slightly in recent years, down from their height in 2007. This is likely reflective of states expanding marijuana legalization, though the numbers are not significantly lower than the overall average since 1997. For example, arrests for possession hit a low in 2015 of 575,000, but went up again in 2016 to 588,000, neither of which is much lower than 599,000 way back in 1998. Considering 30 states now allow provisions for medical marijuana and nine, plus Washington, D.C., have recreational laws on the books, these numbers should be improving more drastically over the 20-year-old stats. The data sets delved more deeply into what these arrests meant specifically for black and Hispanic people. A look at New York City is revealing that even the best intentions cannot overcome racial profiling and decades of anti-marijuana propaganda. Mayor Bill De Blasio made a campaign promise to address the inequity in marijuana arrests and convictions in the city. He took office in 2014, giving us data that is more reflective of a time when public perception of marijuana has been more favorable. Yet in spite of the improved climate and a mayor dedicated to change, disparity marched on. Black people in New York from 2011-2013, before De Blasio’s election, accounted for 51 percent of cannabis arrests. From 2014-2017 that percentage drops only slightly to 48.3 percent. During those same time periods, Hispanic people accounted for 34.3 percent and 38 percent of marijuana-related arrests respectively, meaning they actually grew in their share of overall arrests. Furthermore, 2018 isn’t shaping up to be any better, with 4,000 possession arrests in the first four months, 89 percent either being black or Hispanic. The percentage of cannabis arrests attributed to white people, meanwhile, went from 10.6 percent in 2011-2013 to 9 percent in 2014-2017.

Our Orange County marijuana arrest lawyers will be interested to see if New York will see broader changes now that the mayor is working on a path to legalization for the city and is planning to direct police not to arrest people for public consumption. In the meantime, the data acts as a cautionary tale that public opinion and good intentions are not enough to protect the people most affected by the bunk “War on Drugs.”

Practical marijuana laws need to be on the books, if not federally than at least similar to those here in California. Proposition 64 is designed to not only reduce cannabis-related arrests, but undo some of the damage done in the past. Even as such, recent data from the state attorney general shows Hispanic and black Californians are disproportionately being arrested, but because overall felony arrests have dropped by 74 percent from 2016 to 2017 after recreational legalization, a huge burden has been lifted from those communities. The law also allows for those with past marijuana convictions to petition to have their case reviewed, with most misdemeanors being erased completely and some higher level crimes being reduced depending on severity. Many cities are even doing the leg work on their own to review the records and set things straight for Californians. Our legal team is here to defend Southern Californians who find themselves in cannabis-related legal trouble, but we hope to see continued decriminalization efforts across the state and nation.

The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, collectives, patients, defendants, workers and those facing criminal marijuana charges. Call us at 949-375-4734.

Additional Resources:

National Arrests for Cannabis-Related Offenses 1996-2016, July 8, 2018, New Frontier Data

More Blog Entries:

Marijuana Possession Arrests Up in NYC, Despite Decriminalization, June 14, 2016, Cannabis Law Group

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