African-Americans were supposed to benefit from the legalization of marijuana, but the war on drugs (and Blacks) is raging on, even as several states legalize pot.
A new study from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ) found that African-Americans are still disproportionately arrested for marijuana possession in states where recreational weed is legal. Dr. Mike Males, a senior research fellow at CJCJ, analyzed marijuana-related arrests in Colorado and Washington State from 2008 through 2012.
First, the good news: There's been a large reduction of marijuana arrests since Colorado and Washington legalized the popular drug. Overall drug arrests dropped significantly in both states, with Washington seeing a 90% decrease in arrests while Colorado's reduced arrests by 60%.
Now, the bad: Black people are still twice as likely to be arrested for marijuana, according to Males.“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."Males told Revelist that his study offers more questions than answers.
"We need to understand why legalization has been so much more effective in reducing marijuana arrests in Washington than in Colorado," he told Revelist. "[We also need to understand] why racial arrest disparities remain (albeit at much lower arrest rate levels) even after decriminalization and legalization."
These disparities are unacceptable to Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, especially when the Pew Research Center finds that 53% of Americans support legalizing the greenery.
"There’s just no good reason that so much police time and taxpayer money is spent punishing people for marijuana when so many murders, rapes and robberies go unsolved," he told ThinkProgress.
Arresting African-American pot users has a rippling effect on who benefits from the booming weed industry. Convicted drug felons are forbidden from working in, owning, or investing in recreational marijuana dispensaries, according to BuzzFeed. Since the war on drugs impacts African-Americans at disproportionate rates, the deck is stacked against those who want to legally make money in the weed industry.
That might explain why only 1% of all weed dispensaries are owned by African-Americans.
Males told Revelist that he hopes these preliminary findings will help legislators understand why it's so important to legalize marijuana:
I think it will reinforce those who favor legalization that the reform brings large decreases in marijuana arrests for all races, ages, and types of offenses, and the arrest decrease is hugely beneficial to all groups in terms of reducing criminal records, reducing fines and punishments such as loss of student loans, and enhancing personal freedoms.Seven states are set to vote on marijuana legislation in November. Legalizing is the first step, but until all races are treated equally under that legislation, the fight is far from over.