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Marijuana Legalization and the Racial Disparity in Drug Arrests

Posted by Steve Karimi | Apr 04, 2017 | 0 Comments

Consumers and advocates for the decriminalization of drugs have touted that legalizing marijuana in Washington would significantly drop the large number of race-based drug arrests. The idea of a minimized disparity between arrest rates for whites and minorities even encouraged other states like Oregon and Alaska to jump on the bandwagon of implementing less inhibitory marijuana regulations. But five years after Washington state's decision to allow the recreational use of marijuana, researchers have discovered that less strict drug laws did not have an effect on pot-related racially disparate arrest rates.

Research suggests that although statewide drug arrests have plummeted overall, black people are still being apprehended at disproportionate rates. The study, conducted by lead senior researcher Mike Males and the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, compared data before and after the legalization of recreational marijuana in both Washington and Colorado. Findings revealed that arrest rates dropped by 90 percent in Washington and 60 percent in Colorado. But despite the fact that blacks and whites use drugs at proportional rates, the racial disparity in arrests remained consistent. In fact, arrest rate for blacks is still double that for non-blacks, as it had been prior to the new regulations.

Males claims that issue is more far-reaching than drug policy, and that these disparities are just one of the many repercussions of a flawed criminal justice system.

“The underlying criminal justice problem is still there - that you have racial disparities in arrest," He said. “That effect remains, even after marijuana is decriminalized or legalized. I think it's perfectly logical, even if it's deplorable.”

A study conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) affirmed that the racial disparities in marijuana arrests remains consistent in other states, even those with small minority populations, and those who have not yet decriminalized or legalized the substance. The organization's findings revealed that black drug users are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for drug possession than whites nationwide.

ACLU Researchers, much like Males, credit these unwavering arrest rates on the slowly changing culture of police practices and law enforcement in the United States. The Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program and other federal programs continue to provide incentives for officers to increase police presence in urban neighborhoods and racially profile minorities. The report claims that these programs use arrest numbers to determine the performance of law enforcement agencies. These numbers are also considered when hundreds of millions of dollars are distributed to fund local law enforcement every year.

After the release of many of these studies, it's difficult to conclude that the decriminalization of marijuana has made arrest rates and prosecution more equitable. Also, as many researchers have recognized, all the states that have decided to legalize or loosen regulation on marijuana to date all have one thing in common: comparably small black populations. Therefore, mostly white smokers have gained the benefits of laws pertaining to the legalization of the recreational use of marijuana.

If you have been charged with a drug offense, you deserve a quality defense. Call the Seattle law office of Steve Karimi at (206) 621-8777 or contact him online.

About the Author

Steve Karimi

Steve Karimi attended Pepperdine University School of Law. After graduation he worked as a prosecutor in Seattle where he gained valuable insight to the criminal justice system. Attorney Karimi uses his experiences as a prosecutor everyday only now he fights for the justice of those accused.

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If you were arrested or a loved one has been charged with a crime in Seattle or surrounding areas of Washington State, the Law Offices of Steve Karimi can help. Call 206-621-8777 during regular business hours or 206-660-6200 24 hours a day for a free consultation.

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Named a "rising star" in criminal defense by Washington Law and Politics magazine, Mr. Karimi is a former prosecutor for King County who uses his insight into prosecution strategies to protect his clients' rights in criminal court.