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CA Cannabis Arrests Drop, But Troubling Trend Lingers

July 23, 2020

The number of felony cannabis arrests dropped in California in the age of legalization, but a disturbing trend remained in 2019: black and Latinx people remain disproportionately targeted in cannabis arrests. The California Department of Justice released a crime statistics report earlier this month. For 2019, they reported 1,181 cannabis arrests, down from 1,617 in the previous year— a 27% decline. Still, Latinx people made up 42% of those arrested; black people 22% and white people 21%. This comes after broad legalization of recreational cannabis in 2018 and a pledge by Governor Gavin Newsome to right the wrongs of the War on Drugs. Demographically, all races use marijuana at nearly the same rate. 

According to NORML, black people are 4.4 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana compared to white people in California. Latinx people are more than twice as likely to be arrested for marijuana than white people. Both of these figures are weighted for population and are both increases over 2018 crime statistics. Nationwide, black people are 3.3. times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than white people, according to the ACLU. 

Social Equity Programs and Cannabis Arrests

This alarming escalation of crime statistics mirrors the lack of access to social equity programs in cannabis. Programs designed to help people of color and those affected the worst by cannabis prohibition have either failed or in some cases have had a negative impact. Cannabis regulators in the state and in Los Angeles have pledged to fix the legal red tape.

Along with complete legalization, an overhaul of the social equity program will do a lot to ease the strain on communities hit hardest by the War on Drugs. Other civil liberties advocates say that it is not just cannabis, but over-policing in general that leads to higher crime rates across the board in communities of color. The Peoples Budget of LA hopes to redirect the city budget to more community-oriented services.

photo courtesy Marvin Joseph/Washington Post