Although overall arrests and incarceration for marijuana have decreased in jurisdictions that have legalized marijuana, racial disparities in enforcement persist despite equal rates of use across racial groups.ACLU, The War on Marijuana in Black and White (Washington, DC: ACLU, 2013), 4 & 21-22.
According to a Drug Policy Alliance report released in January, marijuana arrests for white people in Colorado decreased by 51 percent between 2012 and 2014 following legalization, yet they only decreased by 33 percent for Latino people and 25 percent for black people.Drug Policy Alliance, From Prohibition to Progress: A Status Report on Marijuana Legalization (New York: Drug Policy Alliance, 2018), 30.
In Washington State, where both medicinal and recreational marijuana are legal, the arrest rate on marijuana charges for black people remains double the arrest rate for other races and ethnicities.Drug Policy Alliance, From Prohibition to Progress, 30.
And, in Washington, DC, which has also legalized medicinal and recreational marijuana, a black person is 11 times more likely to be arrested for public consumption of marijuana than a white person.Drug Policy Alliance, From Prohibition to Progress, 31.
In light of these disparities, advocates have begun to call for additional policing reforms to address racial bias in marijuana enforcement.Drug Policy Alliance, From Prohibition to Progress, 30 & 33.
This bias has already had far-reaching effects in the multibillion-dollar legal cannabis industry, as people of color are disproportionately excluded from business ownership opportunities because of past arrests for marijuana use.“Racial Injustice and the Legal Marijuana Industry,” Green Entrepreneur, May 10, 2018. Some states and cities are taking steps to counter this effect, like Portland, Oregon, which uses a portion of its marijuana tax as a reinvestment fund for communities of color, and Oakland, California, which requires that a certain percentage of new cannabis licenses go to “equity applicants” who earn less than 80 percent of the city’s median income and who either have been residents of communities disproportionately targeted by law enforcement, or sent to prison on cannabis charges, within the last 20 years.Rose Hackman, “A Billion-Dollar Industry, a Racist Legacy: Being Black and Growing Pot in America,” Guardian, June 15, 2017. And, in September, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that will require the state’s Department of Justice to review marijuana cases dating as far back as 1975 to determine if they are eligible for expungement—a move that would effectively remove the conviction from a person’s record.California AB 1793 (2018). For people with existing marijuana records, expungement could reduce or eliminate the damaging effects of having a conviction history, thus opening up more opportunities for jobs, housing, and education.Lindsay Schnell, “Marijuana Reform: New California Law Gives People with Records a Do-over,” USA Today, October 2, 2018.