Despite the fact that Californians voted to legalize medical marijuana in 1996 and reduced the consequences of possessing small amounts of marijuana to be a minor nonarrestable infraction back in 2011, there have still been thousands of cannabis-related arrests made in the state in the past 10 years. According to a report released by the Drug Policy Alliance, there were almost a half million marijuana arrests made in the state in the past decade. In 2015 alone there were almost 9,000 felony arrests for cannabis.
In between 2006 and 2015, there were 465,873 cannabis-related arrests in the state including felony and misdemeanor charges. During this period of time, there were roughly 14,000 marijuana felony arrests made each year. Misdemeanor charges related to cannabis averaged at around 70,000 per year between 2006 and 2011 when a joint could land you a charge rather than a ticket. After the changes in 2011, cannabis related misdemeanor arrests dropped significantly to just over 20,000 and in 2015, this number dropped again to just over 17,000 which is something worth celebrating.
Unfortunately, when looking at the statistics surrounding who accounts for the majority of these arrests it is disheartening to see that minorities still make up the majority of the arrests despite the fact that individuals in the Caucasian, African-American, and Latino communities use and sell cannabis at about the same rates. According to the statistics in the report released by the DPA, African Americans are twice as likely to be arrested for a marijuana misdemeanor and 5 times more likely to be arrested for a felony charge than Caucasians. The report also showed that Latinos are 26% more likely to be arrested for a cannabis related felony charge than Caucasians.
Another statistic that is equally disheartening is the fact that as of 2015 individuals under the age of 18 accounted for two-thirds of the misdemeanor marijuana related arrests in the states. This is a substantial increase from 2011 when this demographic only accounted for one-third of misdemeanor marijuana arrests.
Californians are set to vote on retail cannabis legalization this November. If Proposition 64 passes, you can expect to see the number of misdemeanors and felony charges drop significantly as it would legalize many of the activities that individuals are still being arrested for today such as possessing cannabis concentrates, giving ganja to others, and cultivating a few plants for personal use.
Will it fix the racial disparities that are so widely evident throughout California as well as prohibition and legal states? Probably not unfortunately and this is why the war on drugs needs to be ended immediately. Until that happens cannabis will be just one more way they are trying to divide us all.
Image Credit Stock Photo/pow420