Cannabis decriminalization reduces racial disparity in arrests for possession

click to enlarge Black people have been disproportionately more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession. - SHUTTERSTOCK
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Black people have been disproportionately more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession.

The failed war on drugs is racist: Black people have been disproportionately more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession, despite a similar rate of cannabis use as white people.

Decriminalizing cannabis has been argued as a way to reduce this racial disparity, and it appears to be working. Research shows cannabis decriminalization efforts in the U.S. have reduced the racial disparity in arrests for possession over the past 20 years.

That's according to a recent peer-reviewed study published by the academic journal Social Sciences & Medicine. Researchers at the University of California San Diego analyzed statistics from the FBI Uniform Crime Report from 2000 to 2019 using data from 37 states, including 11 that decriminalized cannabis.

The researchers found that the 11 states saw a 70% reduction in total adult cannabis arrests after decriminalization and a 40% reduction in cannabis arrests among young people.

The racial disparity in arrests of Black and white adults decreased significantly, dropping by 17% after cannabis decriminalization.

"Cannabis decriminalization seemed to be particularly beneficial to Blacks, who were suffering the most from the adverse consequences of criminal penalties," the researchers wrote in the report. "Taken together, we recommend that lawmakers and public health researchers reconsider cannabis decriminalization as an option of cannabis liberalization, particularly in states concerning the unintended consequences and implementation costs of medical and recreational cannabis legalization."

The data did not show a significant reduction in the racial disparity in arrests of Black people younger than 18 years old, however.

"These findings suggested that cannabis decriminalization had its intended consequence of reducing arrests and may have potential to reduce racial disparity in arrests at least among adults," the researchers wrote.

The researchers said empirical evidence in support of the claim that decriminalization would reduce the racial disparity in arrests had been "almost non-existent."

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About The Author

Lee DeVito

Leyland "Lee" DeVito grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, where he read Metro Times religiously due to teenaged-induced boredom. He became a contributing writer for Metro Times in 2009, and Editor in Chief in 2016. In addition to writing, he also supplies occasional illustrations. His writing has been published...
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