In 2012, Colorado – along with our home state of Washington – became one of the first two states to legalize recreational marijuana. The legalization, however, was not for everyone: Only adults were allowed to legally smoke marijuana in the state. For young adults under the age of 21, smoking pot was still illegal.
Needless to say, since it became legal to use marijuana, arrests for drug possession or distribution have plummeted in Colorado. However, those drug arrests that do still happen for under aged possession of marijuana have been done at a racial disparity somehow even more extreme than before legalization. This is no small feat, considering that arrests for drug possession were already considerably racially biased before Colorado legalized marijuana in 2012.
Arrests Before Marijuana Legalization
Before Colorado legalized marijuana in 2012, arrests for marijuana were already significantly based on the defendant's race. Blacks were nearly twice as likely as other races to be arrested for marijuana crimes in 2012, before the legalization efforts kicked in. Since marijuana has been legalized, however, the juveniles who can still be arrested for drug possession have been subjected to an even higher degree of racial bias than before.
Since Legalization in Colorado, Black Youths Have Been Targeted Even More
According to a recent study released by the Colorado Department of Public Safety, between 2012 and 2014, the marijuana arrest rate of kids between the ages of 10 and 17 have varied widely, depending on the child's race. For white kids in this age range, arrest rates fell by 9 percent. For blacks, though, the arrest rate rose by 52 percent. Hispanics also saw an increased arrest rate for marijuana crimes of 22 percent.
While Minorities Are More Likely to Use Marijuana, It Does Not Account for the Disparity
Two common reactions to racial disparities in arrest rates are that minorities are simply committing the crime more often, and that the police presence in neighborhoods dominated by minorities is higher. However, now that marijuana is legal for adults, most marijuana arrests happen in schools, where police presence is substantially the same from one district to another.
Additionally, surveys have shown that, in Colorado, while black and Hispanic kids are more likely to use marijuana than white kids, it does not account for their heightened arrest rates. When asked whether they had used marijuana in the past month, 17 percent of white high schoolers said they had, while 25.9 percent of black high school students, and 23.6 percent of Hispanic students said they had. While these figures do show that minorities in high school smoke marijuana more often than whites, it falls far short of explaining their heightened arrest rates.
Seattle Criminal Defense Attorney Steve Karimi
While these numbers all come from Colorado, Washington legalized marijuana right alongside Colorado, making it likely that similar issues are going on in our own state.