Marijuana is legal in Colorado for people 21 or older. It’s still illegal for kids to possess, so juveniles are dominating marijuana arrests in the state. Colorado Public Radio reports that arrest rates have risen dramatically for young blacks and Latinos. A Colorado Health Department survey found there wasn’t a huge racial difference in who smokes pot. The marijuana arrest rate for white 10- to 17-year-olds fell by nearly 10 percent from 2012 to 2014, while arrest rates for Latino and black youths respectively rose more than 20 percent and more than 50 percent.
Brian Vicente, who led the marijuana legalization movement in Colorado, believes the discrepancy needs to stop. “That is, I think, a large part of the reason Colorado voters passed legalization,” Vicente says. “They’re tired of the sort of racist legacy of the drug war.” Denver Police spokesman Sonny Jackson says it’s not a matter of what police want to focus on, but what people are reporting to authorities. “Most of these cases are complaint-driven,” Jackson says. “We get a complaint from someone, we’re not sure where it’s going to take us, but we have to act on it. And we’re not sure, if I get a call to a residence or to a location, who I’m going to encounter until I get there.” Jackson says that pot arrests for adults, of all racial groups, have been cut in half since legalization — and he emphasizes that marijuana is a low priority for the department.