BOSTON (STATE HOUSE) – Eight years after Massachusetts voted to decriminalize the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, racial disparities in arrests for marijuana possession have continued, a report from the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts found, and they disproportionately affect African-Americans.
The report released Thursday found that there were 616 marijuana possession arrests in Massachusetts in 2014 and 1,031 arrests for marijuana sales. The report does not say what, if any, other charges those arrested also faced.
The report, which used FBI crime data from 2014, found that the marijuana possession arrest rate for African-Americans was 3.3 times higher than that for white people.
“Racial disparities are a disturbing feature of our current marijuana policy,” ACLU Massachusetts racial justice director Rahsaan Hall said in a statement. “Black people are arrested for marijuana possession at 10 times the rate of white people in some counties – despite the fact Black people and white people use marijuana at the same rate.”
While black people account for 8 percent of the state population, the ACLU said they comprise 24 percent of marijuana possession arrests and 41 percent of marijuana sales arrests.
Hall and other supporters of Question 4 — which would legalize, regulate and tax marijuana for adults 21 or older — said that legalizing cannabis could help eliminate some of the racial disparities.
“Taxing and regulating marijuana is an important step towards reducing the harm that current policies cause to people of color, particularly Black people, and it will generate hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue that can be reinvested in our communities,” Hall said.
But legalization opponents on Thursday pointed to data from Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment that showed that racial disparities have become more pronounced since that state legalized cannabis. A report released in March found that although the number of total marijuana arrests was cut in half, black Coloradoans are now arrested for marijuana offenses at nearly three times the rate that white people are. Before legalization black residents were being arrested at just under two times the rate that white people were.
“This is a highly misleading report because the Yes on 4 campaign can not tell you whether people were arrested for other serious crimes in conjunction with marijuana charges,” Corey Welford, spokesperson for the Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts, said in a statement in response to the ACLU report. “The marijuana industry has a clear history of targeting poorer and minority neighborhoods. Question 4 is not a solution for any of the racial disparities in our justice system and the only evidence in Colorado is that legalization will make racial disparities worse, not better.”
Also Thursday the Massachusetts Public Health Association announced its opposition to the initiative that would legalize, tax and regulate the sale and use of marijuana by adults aged 21 and over. The association said the ballot question “does not provide sufficient public health protections nor does it promise to advance racial justice.” The association urged voters to “support more meaningful criminal justice reform that will reverse the institutionalized discrimination in our drug policies and protect public health.”
Copyright 2016 State House News Service