People of color still targeted for marijuana in traffic stops despite legalization, study finds

click to enlarge People of color still targeted for marijuana in traffic stops despite legalization, study finds
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With marijuana legal in many states, police are less likely to conduct searches for marijuana at traffic stops — but the bar for searching Black and Hispanic drivers is still lower than it is for white drivers.

That's according to a recent study published in Nature: Human Behavior earlier this month conducted by researchers with Stanford University and New York University using data from Colorado and Washington, which were two of the first states to legalize adult-use pot.

According to the report, "After the legalization of marijuana, the number of searches fell substantially" in those states compared to rates in 12 control states, or states where cannabis is not legalized. The researchers also found "the proportion of stops that resulted in either a drug-related infraction or misdemeanor fell substantially in both states after marijuana was legalized."

However, the data also showed that nationwide, Black and Hispanic people are subject to vehicle searches about twice as much as white people — what the researchers called "a gap in search thresholds."

Justin Strekal, the political director of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said the study shows that more work must be done to address issues of systemic racism in the War on Drugs.

"While we are pleased to see the total number of traffic stop-related searches decline in legal cannabis states, we must not overlook the reality that people of color continue to be policed in a racially disparate manner," he said. "While legalization is one tool that appears to lessen some of these disparities, it is not a panacea to solve the structural problems of systemic racism that persist in America."

The study also found that Black drivers were more likely to be pulled over after sunset, suggesting racial bias.

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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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