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Racial Bias in Weed Arrests Continues Despite Decriminalization

Over the past few years, there’s been huge progress made in efforts to decriminalize or legalize weed. A recent poll shows that more than half of Americans have smoked weed at some point in their lives and another poll revealed that more than half of America supports legalizing the plant.

Several years ago, Philadelphia City Council passed legislation decriminalizing marijuana possession. Anyone caught possessing less than 30 grams would simply be issued a $25 citation. Anyone caught blazing up would be issued a $100 fine. Soon after, D.C. enacted similar legislation affecting how weed offenses would be handled. The biggest difference in the two laws is that D.C. continues to make consumption of weed in public a criminal offense while Philadelphia does not.

Despite these decriminalization efforts, police in Philadelphia, D.C., and Chicago (where similar decriminalization efforts have been made) continue to arrest members of the black community for weed possession and use at vastly disproportionate rates. Though the overall amount of weed arrests have dropped significantly–in Philadelphia, recent numbers showed a 82 percent decrease in weed arrests;  D.C. has experienced a 99 percent decrease in arrests in their first year of decriminalization and Chicago saw a similar an 85 percent decrease–it’s not all good news.

Study after study continues to prove that police pick on minorities at vastly disproportionate rates. Just a few weeks ago we wrote about a study  that showed cops are more likely to be nicer when giving a speeding ticket to someone who is white than to someone who is a minority. This stuff is no secret. We all know that cops pick on minorities, but it’s another thing to see it in the actual data.

The D.C. police department recently released marijuana arrest numbers and it’s as you’d expect. While arrests overall are down, the racial disparity in arrests made is clear.

Muckrock

Chicago and Philadelphia are not much different. In Philadelphia, during the first year of decriminalization, out of the the 750-or-so individuals arrested for possession of 30 grams or less, about 600 of them were black. “That’s still going on in Philly,” Chris Goldstein, a writer and marijuana reform activist for Philly NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws ), told Mass Appeal. 

In Chicago, according to recent legislation, if you’re arrested for 10 grams or less you’re issued a $100 to $200 fine and given a citation. Regardless of this, Chicago Police have been having a very hard time with the new laws and according to the Chicago Reader, last year, “78 percent of those arrested for small amounts of weed were black, 17 percent were Hispanic, and only 4 percent were white.”

“Marijuana laws have long been used as an excuse by law enforcement to justify their over-policing of predominantly minority communities,” says Erik Altieri, the Executive Director for NORML. “If police departments across this country began patrolling and arresting individuals for marijuana possession in predominately white neighborhoods at the same rate they do minority communities, the war on marijuana would end overnight.”

And he’s right, you know why? Because there are no indicators that weed consumption varies by race. In fact, according to a study conducted in California in 2010 and, according to numbers by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, white people actually smoke more weed than minorities. So maybe cops should start going to into white neighborhoods to police for weed.

For years, enforcers of our criminal justice systems have been trained to look at weed as this big evil green giant and maybe that’s part of the problem, according to Altieri.

“Our criminal justice system has an inherent racial bias and the criminalization of marijuana is a political and legal tool used to oppress African and Latino Americans,” he says.

Adding, “cities across the nation need to continue to disincentive police from having these interactions entirely, retrain their local departments, and end the criminalization of all marijuana related offenses.”

We 100% agree. It’s time to end the war on weed. Everyone is ready.

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