The war on drugs has always had a disproportionate effect on people of color, but despite the increasing number of states easing punishment for marijuana possession and use, new studies show that law enforcement still target minorities at higher rates.
The most recent study comes from the ACLU of California and the Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit hoping to end the war on drugs. The two groups looked at citation data from Fresno and Los Angeles, which found that black people were being cited five times higher than whites. Latinos were cited 29% and 43% more.
According to Fusion, these results are similar to study by Mike Males published earlier this year. Males’ study focuses on pot-related arrests in five states that had legalized or loosened marijuana laws. The results showed that the number of arrests had plummeted, but racial disparities still persisted. In three of the five states, differences in arrests of black vs. non-black people remained pretty much the same to arrests before reform laws, while in Massachusetts disparities increased and in California disparities decreased slightly. In states with no reform, black people remained three times more likely to be arrested for pot-related infractions.
Dr. Amanda Reiman, Manager of Marijuana Law and Policy at the Alliance, told Fusion in a phone interview, that simply reforming marijuana laws would not be enough to stop the disproportionate arrests of minorities, and the focus should be on police tactics. “[An officer] will say, ‘I’m not a racist person,’ but there’s a psychological culture in policing that started decades ago that perpetuates this idea that people of color are not to be trusted. And we see this even among officers of color. Until we really get down to what’s going on psychologically, these disparities will continue.”
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