Marijuana Arrest Rates Drop, Racial Disparities Remain

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Marijuana arrest rates are plummeting as a growing number of state policy reforms like legalization and decriminalization are enacted; however, stark racial disparities in cannabis law enforcement remain, says a new analysis of policing data. The data follow-up on a 2013 American Civil Liberties Union report that showed that, while African Americans and whites use marijuana at roughly equivalent rates, blacks are much more likely to be arrested for it. Public records requests submitted via MuckRock to all 50 states for data pertaining to marijuana-related arrests show, on average, a significant decrease in possession offenses since the publication of the ACLU report, which was based on 2010 data. Despite the apparent shift in focus away from the enforcement of marijuana possession laws, the racial bias in arrest rates remains.

The classification of marijuana as a less serious offense in many states has resulted in less tracking of information regarding who is stopped, and how often. In New York, despite significant drops in arrests for misdemeanor possession of marijuana, black people are more than 13 times as likely as white people to be arrested for it. Despite significant drops in overall arrest rates, Florida increased the number of people arrested for marijuana possession since 2010. States with a large racial disparity in arrests – New York, North Carolina and South Carolina – also tend to be the states with higher overall arrest rates. The largest drops in overall arrest rates since 2010 were in Nevada, Alaska, Connecticut, and New York. Data were received from 25 states; 12 states provided arrest numbers for local and state police, while 13 either separated local and state police data or provided numbers only for state police.

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