The study states that while marijuana decriminalization and legalization may reduce the overall amount of people arrested for possession of the drug, African Americans are still far more likely to be arrested than whites. Furthermore, the study found that arrest disparities increased in Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, and Oregon following legalization.
“We commend the ACLU for issuing this report. Ironically, this shows, on the so-called ‘marijuana holiday’ of 4/20, that legalization has failed to deliver on one of its key promises,” said Dr. Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) and a former senior drug policy advisor to the Obama Administration. “This study confirms other previous reports and it should serve as a reference for those supporting legalization to look deeper into empty promises of this movement.”
States allowing a commercial marijuana industry bear witness to numerous increases in mental health issues, addiction, accidental ingestion of high potency products by children, hospitalizations, drugged driving crashes and fatalities, and social justice harms.
In states with “legal” marijuana industries, minorities — who were promised access to the industry — often find themselves on the outside looking in. Less than 2% of the industry nationally has any form of minority ownership. While pot shops are overwhelmingly placed in communities of color and low income, social equity applicants find themselves in long waiting lists for licensing approval, sometimes only receiving approval years after large multi-state and multinational operators have cornered the market.
Last week, the Social Equity Owners and Workers Association filed a lawsuit against Los Angeles arguing that the process in which the city approves licenses is unfair. Last month, the city of San Francisco considered halting new approvals of new marijuana storefronts as it stared down a massive backlog of applications, mostly from social equity applicants. And at the end of last year, the Chicago City Council’s Black Caucus threatened to delay the implementation of marijuana sales as not one person of color held a dispensary license in the city. Still, the marijuana industry powered through.
“Removing criminal penalties for low-level possession of marijuana is a worthy approach to drug policy that seeks to heal the harms of existing policies while avoiding additional harms that commercialization brings,” continued Dr. Sabet. “Through these alternatives to legalization, we can work to address the racial disparities that continue to exist, clear the names of those who are burdened with a drug charge, and work to end the scourge of substance abuse—all while avoiding the pitfalls of predatory marketing, enrichment of the investor class and Big Tobacco, and the litany of health and safety harms that marijuana commercialization breeds.”