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Legalizing Marijuana and the Racial Disparity in Pot Arrests Nationally

On 4/20-Day in 2018, Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y, introduced a bill to legalize marijuana nationally and there have been others, including one introduced by Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey. None have passed, but there are a lot of good reasons to consider legalizing marijuana nationally. Perhaps the most convincing reason is the racial disparity in pot arrests and how those convictions affect the lives of those individuals. There have been a number of studies over the last decade about this disparity, but they all demonstrate the same thing; if you are black and smoke pot, you are much more likely to be arrested than if you are white. Not somewhat more likely; incredibly more likely. And the evidence is that whites and blacks use marijuana at about the same rates. Consider this statistic; in 2015, according to the government's annual "National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 49% of whites have smoked pot sometime during their lives compared to 43% of blacks. And these results have changed little over the years.

However, if you are black you are about 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for possession nationally and in some places like Philadelphia, as much as 7 times more likely. The why is complex and some point to racism, but criminal justice researchers also point to other factors. In a report about racial disparities in Virginia, Jon Gettman, a criminal justice professor at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia explains it this way;

"Marijuana possession is a crime of indiscretion, meaning people get arrested because they’re at the wrong place at the wrong time.“It’s not necessarily that the minority group of blacks are targeted for increased arrests but that the areas where they live have a lot more police patrols and a lot more police activity. I think it may have a lot to do with where police patrols are more frequent and where policing is more aggressive – and that may very well be because there’s more crime in particular regions.”

That may be the answer, but the consequences for black's who have been arrested are substantial. In introducing his legalization bill, Cory Booker points out in an interview with;

“If you get convicted, you now have a lifetime sentence, not behind bars, but with a criminal conviction on your record. You have to check boxes when you’re applying for a job. You can’t get a Pell Grant. You can’t get food stamps, public housing ... [or] many business licenses...., “And so as we think on this 4/20 about marijuana, I hope that people don’t just think about, Hey, having open access to the drug, but I hope people think about this being a moral moment in American history and a moment to correct for massive injustices.”

There are a lot of factors to consider in the legalization debate, but this is one which should garner more attention.

By Don Lam, & Curated Content


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