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How to Cut Down on Traffic Stops and Save Lives: Legalize Weed

Maureen Meehan

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Studies are showing that states with legalized weed are experiencing a sharp decline in the number of traffic stops and searches by state police.

This is extremely pertinent considering that for some people, interaction with police officers can end in death, followed by impunity for the murderous cops.

The latest in the growing list of these racist outrages is Philando Castile, pulled over for no apparent reason, then shot and killed (with his seatbelt on) while calmly reaching for his ID after having informed the officer that he was carrying a legally registered firearm.

While a recent study done by Stanford University’s Open Policing Project showed that traffic stops fell significantly for all racial groups, black and Hispanic drivers are still searched at higher rates than white motorists.

The Center for Investigative Reporting in partnership with The Marshall Project looked at stop and searches conducted by Washington and Colorado state patrols before and after weed became legal in those two states in 2012.

The analysis was based on data obtained by researchers at Stanford University who released their report this week, studying 60 million state patrol stops in 31 states between 2011 and 2015, the most comprehensive look at national traffic stops to date.

While the data does not claim to offer a complete picture in that it includes only stops made by state patrol agencies and not local law enforcement, the Stanford study certainly made one thing clear: Removing marijuana possession from the potential list of crimes lowers the chance that a car will be stopped and searched.

And the numbers are striking.

Let’s start with Washington State where the search rate of black drivers over the age of 21 decreased by about 34 percent after legalization, according to the analysis published by The Marshall Project.

Search rates of white and Hispanic drivers in the same age group declined by about 25 percent.

While racial disparities remained, before and after legalization, black motorists over 21 were searched at a rate roughly twice that of white drivers. The search rate for Hispanics was about 1.7 times that of whites.

Now for Colorado: The search rate of African American drivers over 21 dropped by nearly half, while for Hispanic drivers it fell by 58 percent.

White drivers in Colorado faced almost two-thirds fewer vehicle searches after recreational marijuana was legalized.

Naturally, racial disparities also persist in Colorado following legalization.

Search rates for African American drivers was 3.3 times that of white drivers, and the rate for Hispanics was more than 2.7 times that of whites.

So, the moral of the story…

“Legalizing marijuana is not going to solve racial disparities,” said Mark Silverstein, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado. “We need to do a lot more before we get at that.”

However, the ACLU is wisely advocating that law enforcement agencies must have “objective facts” that amount to reasonable suspicion before they ask a driver for consent to search their car.

By the way, according to Stanford’s Policing Project, on a typical day in the United States, police officers make more than 50,000 traffic stops.

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