American drug law enforcement is a race issue. This is not just my leftist opinion; there is significant data that supports the fact that POC are disproportionately searched, arrested, and prosecuted on drug charges in this country. A lot of liberals thought that legalizing weed would change that, but new research suggests that even where weed is legal, Black and Latinx Americans are still being unjustly arrested on weed charges.
The study, which was released yesterday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, analyzed the data of 838,600 people between 2008 and 2017. Researchers were trying to discern how cannabis legalization has impacted cannabis use across race and ethnicity. What they found was, essentially, that legalizing weed hasn’t changed weed use much at all: White and Black American still use drugs at similar rates, and yet Black Americans still bear the brunt of drug prosecution.
According to the research, over the course of a lifetime 53% of white people and 46% of Black people reported weed use. Across all states, Black people were almost 4% more likely to be arrested for possession. In other words, white Americans are just as likely (if not slightly more) to smoke weed than Black Americans, but despite legalization in many states, Black people are more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people. This is an unfortunate echo of similar stats that reflect racially charged arrests long before it was legalized in many states.
Those statistics aren’t particularly shocking given our country’s racist drug history. The reality is that certain drugs are seen as acceptable forms of recreation (for white people), while others are deemed as “bad,” or “hard.”
So how is it possible for people to get arrested for having weed in places where weed is legal? Well, the truth about drug legalization is that it doesn’t end the “war on drugs.” People in states where weed is legal can still be arrested for having too much weed or for not obtaining it from an authorized source. And, as the study’s authors pointed out, POC are targeted due to structural factors, such as where dispensaries are located.
Many hoped that cannabis legalization would help put an end to the U.S.’s racist war on drugs, but critics were dubious. Unfortunately, if this new research is any indication, legalization is certainly not stopping cops from racial profiling when it comes to cannabis, and it isn’t winning us any battles in this imaginary war.