Chicago’s Year of Legal Weed Left Racial Disparities Unchanged

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In the year since Chicago legalized recreational marijuana, some are able to enjoy the drug without consequence, while others continue to suffer from the policies of the drug war era, reports the Chicago Tribune. Three times the number of African Americans were arrested for marijuana-related offenses in Chicago than other ethnicities combined in 2020, according to Chicago Police Department arrest totals retrieved under a Freedom of Information Act request. During the first year of marijuana legalization, Black people led all ethnic groups in arrests with 2,311, making up more than three-quarters of all marijuana arrests in Chicago. Latinos made up the second highest number of arrests with 506. Whites made up about 4 percent of arrests in Chicago, with 117 arrests across the city for the entire year. Asians and Pacific Islanders made up fewer than 1 percent with just 25 arrests. Most arrests involve possessing or attempting to sell amounts over the legal limit of 30 grams. Smoking marijuana while driving remains illegal.

Because of marijuana’s longtime vilified image in Chicago, fears persist in neighborhoods, where weed is still a trigger for detainment. Relations between Chicago police and communities of color remain strained from past high-profile incidents, from Laquan McDonald’s fatal shooting to the wrongly raided house of Anjanette Young and the recent shooting death of 13-year-old Adam Toledo by police. The 10 police districts with the most marijuana arrests in the city are majority Black and Latino, while districts with large white populations have the fewest arrests. The ACLU found that Illinois had the third-highest racial disparity in marijuana possession arrests among states, with Black people 7.5 times more likely than white people to be arrested. Still, the legal industry is growing rapidly. Last month, Illinois set a record with $109 million in sales of recreational marijuana, a 35 percent increase from the previous month. But so far, the city has no minority-owned dispensaries, and felons are barred from working within the industry.

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