Racial Arrest Disparities Got Worse After Legalization, Study Finds

Racial Arrest Disparities Got Worse After Legalization, Study Finds

Cannabis legalization has dramatically reduced the number of marijuana arrests in Washington, Colorado, and other adult-use states. But as the overall number of arrests plummeted, the racial disparities within those numbers remained stubbornly intact. In fact, the disparity has gotten worse.

That’s the finding of a new report published this week in the journal Substance Use & Misuse, which found that cannabis arrest rates in Washington, post-legalization, were five times higher for African-Americans than for whites. Prior to legalization, black people were getting arrested for cannabis at a rate 2.5 times that of whites.

The study was led by Caislin Firth, a researcher at the University of Washington’s Department of Public Health.

Fewer Arrests, Greater Disparities

This week’s report points to the incredible stickiness of racism in policing. In recent years both Colorado and Oregon have reported similar results. Two reports, one in 2015 and another in 2018, found large decreases in cannabis arrests in Colorado after adult-use legalization, along with continuing disparities for black residents. In Oregon, overall cannabis arrests plummeted but black people still faced much greater odds of arrest than white people.

Here’s the good news: Overall arrests have plummeted since adult-use legalization took effect in Washington in January 2013. A year earlier, the state’s arrest rate for cannabis crimes stood at 9 per 100,000 residents. That rate plummeted to near zero in January 2013 and has remained there ever since. Read more

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