Okay, we’ll start with the good news: Much fewer people are being arrested on cannabis-related charges in Colorado since the state legalized adult-use marijuana in 2012. But, the bad news is that Drug War racism still persists, even in legal weed states raking in billions of dollars. As relayed by the Denver Post, a recent government report found that Black people are still being arrested at more than double the rate of white people.
According to the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice’s report “Impacts of Marijuana Legalization in Colorado,” regulation has benefited whites more than it has anyone else. (Are you surprised?) White people are being arrested for cannabis crimes at a rate of 76 people per 100,000. People who identify as Hispanic are getting arrested at 107 per 100,000 people. And Black people are getting arrested at 160 per 100,000 people.
The decrease in numbers of cannabis arrests since 2019 was larger for whites (-72 percent) than it was for either Black people (- 63 percent) and Hispanics (- 55 percent.)
Studies suggest that white people sell and consume more illegal drugs, so you can see why these figures are particularly troubling.
Gender disparities are also notable in the report’s data. Though men are still arrested three times as much as women, their arrest rate dropped 70 percent, while that of women dropped by 56 percent.
In addition to who is being arrested, there have also been changes in where people are being apprehended by the police. Highway/road/street arrest plummeted by 82 percent, while private workplace arrests rose by 113 percent.
Of course, legalization doesn’t magically make cops less racist. This is not news. The continued racial disparity in arrests has been a topic of discussion since the state’s initial regulation happened — we see this in a report from 2015 as proof.
When there’s little chance of going to jail, you have an edge over others to sell weed without fear. According to a 2020 study prepared for Denver’s Department of Excise and Licenses, 74.6 percent of owners of licensed cannabis businesses were white and a whopping 68 percent of employees are also white. Let’s keep in mind that Black people make up 9.5 percent of Denver’s population, and people who identify as Hispanic, 30.5 percent, while we look at the figures of BIPOC industry involvement. Black people accounted for around six percent of both cannabis business owners and employees, and Hispanic people clocked in at a scant 13 percent of owners, and 12 percent of employees.
Unfortunately, these disappointing numbers are applicable across the US' entire cannabis industry. In Colorado, steps are being taken to redress the racial disparity in legal weed. The Department of Excise and Licenses that sponsored the study exposing ownership and employee inequality convened “a panel of 25 elected officials, activists, industry reps, and lobbyists” that suggested an array of legislation changes intended to make the marijuana industry more equitable.
Numbers like the ones recently released underline the importance of getting these bills passed.