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Another study found that decriminalizing marijuana not only dramatically reduced possession arrests overall, but also reduced racial disparities in the remaining arrests.
Researchers at the University of California, San Diego examined FBI Uniform Crime Report data for 37 states between 2000 and 2019 to determine the impact of decriminalization policies.
“Minorities often bear the brunt of uneven drug law enforcement,” notes the article, which appeared this month in the journal Social Science & Medicine. “In the United States, blacks were disproportionately more likely to be arrested for possession of cannabis than whites despite a similar rate of cannabis use.”
The analysis shows that decriminalization contributes to reducing this historically discriminatory application.
“Cannabis possession arrest rates have declined by over 70% among adults and over 40% among youth after the implementation of cannabis decriminalization in 11 states,” the study found. “Among adults, decriminalization was associated with an approximately 17% decrease in racial disparity in arrest rates between blacks and whites.
Interestingly, while youth arrests overall declined among white and black populations after a state decriminalized marijuana, “there was no evidence of a change in racial disparities” for this. age group.
The study’s authors also noted that decriminalization “appeared to be particularly beneficial for blacks, who suffered the most from the adverse consequences of criminal sanctions.”
“Overall, we recommend that lawmakers and public health researchers reconsider the decriminalization of cannabis as an option for liberalizing cannabis, particularly in states regarding the unintended consequences and costs of implementing legalization of cannabis. cannabis for medical and recreational purposes, “they wrote in the article, which was first noted. by Forbes.
“Cannabis decriminalization was associated with significantly lower rates of cannabis possession arrests among adults and youth, and among blacks and whites… These results suggest that decriminalization of cannabis has resulted in fewer arrests. and could potentially reduce racial disparities in arrests at least among adults. “
Of course, while it makes sense for arrests to decrease after the penalties for possession of cannabis are lifted, researchers couldn’t say for sure why racial disparities have narrowed as well.
“Law enforcement behavior may not have changed: Blacks may still be more likely to be arrested, questioned or wanted for possession of cannabis than whites after decriminalization. But if these behaviors did not result in arrests due to decriminalization, the racial disparity in arrest rates would nonetheless decrease, ”they wrote. “It is also possible that blacks were more likely to respond to decriminalization by possessing less cannabis below the threshold amount for the lowest level of criminal offense compared to whites. “
A separate recent study in a major scientific journal published by the American Medical Association (JAMA) came to a similar conclusion when researchers studied the impact of legalization and decriminalization on racial disparities in arrests.
This analysis of arrests, which specifically focused on race-related trends, compared data from 2008 to 2019. Researchers at Eastern Virginia Medical School and the University of Saint Louis found that the states legalizing cannabis resulted in 561 fewer arrests per 100,000 blacks and 195 fewer arrests. for whites on average over this period.
Decriminalization, meanwhile, was associated with about 449 fewer arrests per 100,000 blacks and a drop of 117 for whites.
Notably, this study also identified a difference in the impacts of policies for young people. Data on marijuana-related arrests of teens indicated that young people were at a lower risk of being arrested as part of simple decriminalization versus legalization.
For those who have followed cannabis politics and the racist impacts of the War on Drugs, the results of these studies are not particularly surprising.
Even the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Nora Volkow, has repeatedly pointed out and criticized racial disparities in the application of drug criminalization.
JAMA also released a study this year that concludes that youth marijuana use does not increase after states pass medical or recreational legalization, challenging another prohibitionist narrative.
Likewise, a federally funded survey released this month found that youth marijuana use had “declined significantly” in 2021, as had illicit substance use among young people. adolescents in general. This is despite the fact that more state cannabis legalization laws are being enacted and implemented across the country.
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Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.