On the national level, African Americans are roughly 4 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana as Caucasians, even though consumption rates are similar. In some parts of America, like St. Louis, I have seen that number as high as 8 times as likely. That’s one of the biggest arguments for legalizing marijuana, that it will reduce the unbalanced enforcement of marijuana prohibition.
Marijuana prohibition is a racist policy. Marijuana prohibition was started as a way to target minorities. All law enforcement has to do is ‘suspect’ that marijuana is present from an ‘odor’ that may or may not exist, and that’s all it takes to do almost whatever the officer wants in the name of the ‘investigation.’ That’s why there is such a disparity among enforcement rates between Caucasians and African Americans.
But legalization doesn’t completely fix the problem. According to the Boston Globe racial disparities still exist in Colorado and Washington, even though both states have legalized marijuana:
In Colorado and Washington, where people are still detained for crimes like consuming marijuana in public or selling the drug on the black market, arrest rates remain more than twice as high for blacks as for all others after legalization, according to a study by Mike Males, a senior researcher at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice.
“The underlying criminal justice problem is still there — that you have racial disparities in . . . arrest,” said Males. “That effect remains, even after marijuana is decriminalized or legalized. . . . I think it’s perfectly logical, even if it’s deplorable.”
Marijuana legalization does not completely eliminate systemic racism in law enforcement. However, it does reduce it, which is a good step in the right direction. Legalization lowers the overall amount of arrests, which is good for everyone, especially minorities. For the prohibitions that remain on the books, something needs to be done to ensure that things like smoking in public is enforced equally. What the fix is? I am not sure. But constructive conversations need to be had. This is yet another example of the need to keep pushing for reform, even after legalization has been achieved.