More Blacks Still Going to Jail for Marijuana Despite Legalization

While some advocates of the drug policy reform movement have made it their lifelong mission to convince the population that legalizing the leaf is the only way to end the racial disparity that exists in relation to marijuana-related arrests, a recent study shows that legalization has no bearing on the racial imbalance — African Americans are still getting busted more than whites for marijuana in states that have made it legal.

In a comparative analysis of the arrest rates before and after Colorado and Washington legalized recreational marijuana, researchers found that while arrests for pot have dropped off significantly in those states, blacks still remain a hard target for violating state marijuana laws.

The statistics uncovered by Mike Males of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice indicate that nothing much has changed since the two states implemented policies to make pot legal – blacks are continue to be arrested more than double their white counterparts.

“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.” 

As Keith Humphreys, professor of psychiatry at Stanford University pointed it out in his article on the subject the latest numbers dispel the “widely-believed hypothesis that making marijuana illegal contributes to racial disparities in arrest rates.”

“At the same time,” he continued, “racial disparities are imperfect indicators of how a policy affects members of minority groups.”

A similar report was published in 2015 by the Drug Policy Alliance. It showed that while arrests for pot possession, cultivation and distribution had dropped by an impressive 95 percent after Colorado passed Amendment 64, blacks were still twice as likely to be charged with public consumption and much more likely to be prosecuted for illegal cultivation and possession of more than the one ounce limit. 

"I don't think young black or brown people are more likely to flout marijuana law than white people," Art Way, Colorado director for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement last year.” Legalization is no panacea for the longtime issues that law enforcement had with the black and brown community."

Although the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington has undeniably contributed to fewer citizens being run through the criminal justice system, the latest numbers show that law enforcement in the United States has a long way to go before it can dig itself out of the racial rut that has sustained pot prohibition for decades.

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