Many states, even those which haven’t yet legalized cannabis for adult use, have recognized the need to address the massive, historical and ongoing disparities in drug law enforcement. Over decades, these disparities have contributed to the United States becoming the world’s largest jailer, a country not just of mass incarceration but of the hyper-incarceration of people of color specifically.
More recently, these disparities have been touchstones for progressive critiques of the criminal legal system and of drug policy. Marijuana legalization efforts are regularly framed as social justice measures aimed at redressing these inequalities and their many harms. As are moves to decriminalize minor cannabis possession and even to expunge the records of people with past marijuana convictions.
In Florida, however, there’s evidence to suggest that racially disparate marijuana enforcement is actually getting worse, not better.
Black Floridians Four Times More Likely Than Whites To Face Arrest for Weed
An analysis of new arrest and booking data from the Miami-Dade Police Department shows that racial disparities in marijuana arrests are becoming even more disproportional. The data confirms what the ACLU published in its July 2018 report on criminal justice data in Miami-Dade from 2010 to 2015.
The ACLU report shows that from start to finish, from arrest through to sentencing, criminal legal proceedings are extremely biased against non-white defendants and Black defendants in particular.
Black people comprise 17 percent of Miami-Dade county’s population, yet account for 38 percent of arrests. Furthermore, arrest rates are higher in neighborhoods with larger Black populations. And Black people are more likely to face arrest for drug-related “nuisance” crimes, including minor cannabis use and possession.
The Miami-Dade Police Department’s public bookings and arrest records from 2015 to the present show that these trends continue. But you have to go digging to find out. The department’s database doesn’t immediately show all demographic data. And shockingly, Miami-Dade police don’t include Hispanic or Latino as a demographic category.
But police indicate race on the arrest form. So taking a random sampling of 50 cases, the Miami New Times reviewed demographic data on arrest forms. They found 40 out of the 50 people police arrested for minor cannabis possession were either Black or Hispanic.
The disproportionate enforcement of cannabis laws in Miami-Dade is found across Florida, too. In 2017, statewide arrests for minor cannabis charges went up 6 percent, with nearly half of them Black people.
Miami Cops Can Give Out Citations, But They’re Still Arresting Black People
The data becomes even more alarming when you consider that cops have the option not to arrest someone for weed. In 2015, Miami-Dade county commissioners passed a resolution allowing police to issue citations rather than arrest and charge people possessing less than 20 grams of marijuana.
But since the change went into effect, marijuana arrests in Southern Florida have gone up. And when police do decide to issue citations rather than arrest, it’s overwhelmingly when the person in question is white.
Between July 2015 and July 2018, Miami-Dade police gave 7,268 marijuana citations to white people—out of 10,000 total citations. 2,789 of those 10,000 went to Black people. Combined with the data showing racially disproportionate arrest rates, arrests for alleged offenses that fall under the 2015 citation rule, that means a Black person is four times more likely than a white person to face arrest for minor marijuana offenses.
And while the 2015 ordinance allows officers to issue citations, it doesn’t mandate that they do. Police departments have to opt in. And the police departments that have so far refused to adopt the ticketing approach are those over-policing Black neighborhoods. So the folks who could benefit most from citations are in jurisdictions that require officers to make arrests.