Analysis: Racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests become more pronounced in prohibition states


States that have not removed criminal penalties for marijuana possession have seen widening disparities in arrest rates over the past two decades, according to data published in the journal. JAMA Health Forum.

A team of researchers affiliated with Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk and Saint Louis University in Missouri assessed trends in marijuana possession arrests for whites and blacks over a 20-year period (January 2000 -December 2019) in states with and without marijuana policy changes.

They reported that legalization and decriminalization policies were associated with “large decreases” in the total number of adults arrested for marijuana-related offenses, but that legalization was associated with “the largest decrease in raw differences between arrests of blacks and whites”. (In states with only decriminalization, race-based disparities have persisted over time despite fewer total arrests.) individuals, increasing the disparity in arrest rates over time.

The authors concluded, “This study underscores the importance of statewide policies in reducing arrests for cannabis possession. …While these findings do not unambiguously favor decriminalization or legalization, the growing disparities in arrest rates in states without either policy underscore the need for targeted interventions to address criminalization. racial injustice.

Commenting on the study’s findings, NORML Policy Director Morgan Fox said: “While removing criminal penalties for simple possession of cannabis is not a foolproof solution for racially disparate law enforcement, this leads to a drastic reduction in the number of people of color who are disproportionately and unnecessarily caught up in the criminal justice system.

He added: “It is appalling, but not particularly surprising, that we are seeing an increase in racially disparate arrest rates in states that continue to cling to outdated denial policies. Whatever the intent, it is clear that the continued criminalization of cannabis perpetuates and exacerbates uneven law enforcement and the harms that flow from it. This is not something we can tolerate in the 21st century, and these findings should prompt lawmakers to enact sensible cannabis policy reforms.

Despite similar drinking habits, black Americans are nearly four times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana-related offences.

The full text of the study, “Association of Racial Disparity in Cannabis Possession Arrests Among Adults and Youth with Statewide Cannabis Decriminalization and Legalization,” is online here. Additional information is available in NORML’s fact sheet, “Racial Disparities in Marijuana Arrests.”


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