Race disparity in Colorado pot busts, despite legalization

Reuters / Rick Wilking

Reuters / Rick Wilking

The legalization of marijuana in Colorado has not stopped racial disparities in arrest rates, with blacks still much more likely than whites to be charged with crimes related to the drug, although overall arrest rates have fallen significantly.

The report by the Drug Policy Alliance, which campaigned for the
legalization of pot, found that since the first shops selling
marijuana opened in January 2014, there has been a decrease in
traffic fatalities and an increase in tax revenue, jobs and
economic output from pot sales right across Colorado.

The total number of charges for possession of the drug also fell
dramatically by 95 percent from 39,000 in 2010 to just over 2,000
in 2014.

But even after legalizing marijuana sales, blacks are still more
than twice as likely as whites to be charged with public use of
the drug, its illegal cultivation or possession of more than one

READ MORE: Colorado pot law under fire again from
neighboring states

The marijuana arrest rate for people of color in 2014 was 2.4
times higher than for white people, just the same as in 2010.

“Legalization is no panacea for the longtime issues that law
enforcement had with the black and brown community,”
Art Way, Colorado director for the drug Policy Alliance, in a

However, Tony Newman, also of the Drug Policy Alliance, was
slightly more upbeat about the findings of the report.

“Despite the unsurprising racial disparities, these massive
drops in arrests have been enormously beneficial to people of
he said.

There was also a slight fall in the number of charges for
marijuana distribution for black people, who accounted for 22
percent of such arrests in 2010 and 18 percent in 2014.

READ MORE: Colorado’s first year of legal weed
returns less taxes than expected

The report’s findings also got a mixed response from NAACP – the
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

“The overall decrease in arrests, charges and cases is
enormously beneficial to communities of color who bore the brunt
of marijuana prohibition. However, we are concerned with the rise
in disparity for the charge of public consumption and challenge
law enforcement to ensure this reality is not discriminatory in
any manner,”
said Rosemary Harris Lytle in a statement.

But blacks are much more likely to get caught for illegal
marijuana cultivation now than before it was legal. In 2010, more
whites got arrested for illegally growing the drug. In 2014 the
arrest rate for blacks was 2.5 times higher.

And the statistics also reflect greater law enforcement attention
paid to blacks.

“Black communities, and black people in predominantly-white
communities, tend to be generally under higher levels of
surveillance than whites and white communities and this is
probably why these disparities are arising,”
sociologist Pamela E Oliver of the University of Wisconsin in
emailed comments to AP.

Latinos, Colorado’s largest ethnic minority, were left out of the
report because the data came from the National Incident-Based
Reporting System, which does not tally numbers for them.

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