One of the things I always thought would change with cannabis legalization was racial disparities in cannabis arrests. Minorities, in particular black people have always been arrested at higher rates for cannabis possession than white people. A lot of legalization advocates, myself included had hoped that this would change as cannabis legalization began to spread across the country and public opinion began shifting towards cannabis use. Unfortunately, this is not the case, as black people are still being arrested at higher rates than white people for the same crime.
Data from the pro legalization Drug Policy Alliance shows that while arrests are down overall, black people are still the ones bearing most of the brunt when it comes to cannabis enforcement, as Vox reports.
Just how bad is the disparity in arrests? According to Vox, “In [Alaska], white and black arrest rates fell by nearly 99 percent and more than 93 percent, respectively, between 2012 and 2016. But black people were arrested for marijuana at a rate of 17.7 per 100,000 in 2016, while white people were arrested at a rate of 1.8 per 100,000 — about 10 times less.” That is still an alarming rate.
In Washington DC, the results were a little better, but not by all that much. Black people were being arrested at a rate of 8 in 100 thousand, and whites were being arrested at a rate of only 2 in 100 thousand, which is only four times as much. That’s still not great, but it’s certainly better than Alaska’s numbers.
We saw the same results in Colorado and Washington when they legalized recreational cannabis a few years ago. So, how do we fix the racial disparities in cannabis arrests? This is a very tricky question, with no easy answer. One possible solution would be to train police forces to not be racist, which would require a complete overhaul in how law enforcement officers are trained. That sounds like a good idea to me, but it would surely be a hard sell for the general public. This is something that the next states to legalize cannabis are going to have to figure out.
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