While Californians enjoyed a record low in cannabis arrests last year, racial disparity in arrests has actually managed to increase. The continued inequality in policing shows that reversing the stifling effects of the drug war may not be as simple as just legalizing drugs.

There were 1,181 felony weed arrests in 2019, down a whopping 27% from 1,617 in 2018, as reported by the Associated Press. That makes last year the lowest for felony cannabis arrests in California since 1954.

And yet, black and Hispanic people continue to be much more likely to be arrested for these crimes than white people. Last year, 42% of those arrested on felony cannabis charges were Hispanic, 22% were black, and 21% were white. 

When considering both felony and misdemeanor arrests for weed-related offenses, black people were 4.47 times more likely to be arrested than white people, and Hispanic people were roughly twice as likely to be arrested as whites, according to data from the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). Both these numbers represent a slight increase over 2018.

The statistics are not inconsistent with the nation as a whole. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, black people are 3.6 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis crimes than white people, though data suggest that black people use weed slightly lessthan their white counterparts.

While arrests went down last year, “the harassment went up,” Donnie Anderson, co-founder of the cannabis trade group California Minority Alliance, told AP.

Ellen Komp, deputy director of NORML California said that the statistics are “troubling, especially now that we’ve legalized it,” Komp said, referring to the fact that California legalized cannabis in 2018. “It’s legal if you have the venture capital to open up on Main Street.”

Photo via Flickr/Office of Public Affairs

Natalie