Although Americans are more receptive to the legalization of marijuana, that acceptance of pot is not reflected in the criminal justice system.
About 61 percent of Americans say marijuana should be legalized, a sentiment that has increased steady in recent years, according to the Pew Research Center. That hasn’t stopped the police from disproportionately targeting Black and Brown people for marijuana arrests. In states that legalized pot, overall arrests declined but racial disparities remain.
In New York City, progressive Mayor Bill de Blasio supported leniency for possession of small amounts of marijuana. Yet 93 percent of the NYPD’s pot possession arrests involved Blacks and Hispanics, according the Police Reform Project, an advocacy group that analyzed arrest data from the first three months of 2018.
“Arrests for marijuana remain in the thousands every year and are now the third most common NYPD arrest,” said the organization’s director Robert Gangi, adding that well-know data shows that Blacks and Whites use and sell marijuana at proportional rates.
Indeed, marijuana use is roughly equal among Blacks and Whites, yet Blacks are 3.73 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
That racial disparity continues in places like Colorado, one of the first two states to legalize pot in 2012, an analysis by the Drug Policy Alliance shows. While the arrest numbers declined, Blacks in Colorado get busted at almost three times the rate of Whites.
NYPD officials denied targeting Blacks and Hispanics. They claim that cops investigate drug crimes in places where they receive complaints from residents. Those communities happen to be predominantly Black and Hispanic, J. Peter Donald, the NYPD’s assistant commissioner of public information, told WNYC.
However, the police arrest Blacks and Hispanics disproportionately higher in neighborhoods where they are minorities, a WNYC analysis of arrest data found.
“There are neighborhoods where the Black or Hispanic population is 10 or 20 percent but they are 80 to 90 percent of the arrests,” Len Rodberg, a retired Queens College professor, told the news outlet.