When Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012, drug policy advocates and pot consumers believed racial drug arrests would drop dramatically. That logic inspired voters in Washington, D.C., Oregon, and Alaska to hit the polls two years later in favor of less restrictive pot laws.
But it turns out that advocates and consumers were only half right. Drug arrests have plummeted overall, yet black people are still disproportionately arrested.
Between 2008 and 2014, marijuana arrests decreased by 60 percent in Colorado and 90 percent in Washington. However, a study of FBI Uniform Crime Reports conducted by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice’s Mike Males concluded that black people in 2008 and 2014 were twice as likely to be arrested for marijuana — in both states.
“I am surprised and disappointed by this,” Males told the Washington Post. “The forces that contribute to racial disparities under prohibition are clearly still in place after legalization.”
According to a national study from the ACLU in 2013, black users are 3.73 more likely to be arrested for possession than their white counterparts, even though both groups use pot at the same rate. As a result, black people are disproportionately slapped with mandatory minimum sentences and languish in prison for decades even as more states consider legalization.
Despite the positive ramifications that legalization was expected to have for African Americans, a recent Buzzfeed investigation found that they’re also left out of the weed market in states where the drug is legal.
Thanks to centuries of oppression, the piece notes, black people who hope to profit from marijuana sales generally can’t afford the $250,000 start-up costs to get their businesses off of the ground. And banks are unable to give them business loans, because the federal government, which still considers marijuana illegal, insures them. With easier access to cash and property, white men dominate the legal industry.
At least seven states are poised to vote on marijuana legalization this year.