A recent report reveals a despicable trend in Colorado.
Despite fewer cannabis-related arrests, the arrest rate for Colorado’s Black residents (160 per 100,000) is more than double that of White residents (76 per 100,000).
Research shows that White people use and sell drugs at the same or higher rates as other minority groups, yet Black Americans continue to be arrested more frequently for drug-related crimes.
With the similar drug-usage data in mind, the discrepancy in marijuana arrests “raises eyebrows,” said Truman Bradley executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group.
“Impacts on Marijuana Legalization in Colorado,” a biennial report commissioned by the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice, is the most extensive look since 2018 at marijuana’s impact across public safety, health, driving, and youth consumption.
Court case filings related to cannabis declined 55% between 2012 and 2019 and marijuana-related arrests have plummeted since legalization, dropping 68% between 2012 and 2019 (13,225 to 4,290). That steep decline has not been felt uniformly — 72% for White individuals, 55% among Hispanics, and a 63% decrease for Black Coloradans.
Minorities are more likely to be stopped and searched as well, and the sight of items such as blunt wraps or rolling papers are used by police as cause enough to begin harassing residents. Brian Vicente, who led the marijuana legalization movement in Colorado, says that discrepancy needs to stop.
“That is a large part of the reason Colorado voters passed legalization,” Vicente says. “They’re tired of the racist legacy of the drug war.”
Keith Humphreys, who studies drug policy at Stanford University, theorizes that the marijuana businesses themselves may be playing a role in who gets arrested.
“The emerging legal marijuana industry is overwhelmingly White-owned and White-dominated, and provides good access to White customers,” he says. “So one possibility is that that leaves the illegal market disproportionately composed of people of color, both the buyers and the sellers.”
Wanda James, a Black woman who owns the Simply Pure dispensary in a gentrified neighborhood in northwest Denver, is an anomaly in the industry. News that minorities are being arrested at higher rates for marijuana offenses in the city makes her angry.
She points out the targeting of minorities by law enforcement is not just a Colorado or Denver problem — “there is not a major city, small town, rural county, city-county, outskirts, beach community that does not have this exact same problem” — and safe and legal access to cannabis clearly hasn’t wiped that away.
The authors of the report highlight a few other trends:
- People are moving away from smoking and instead are consuming cannabis through vapes and edibles at higher rates.
- Individuals over 65 are using marijuana at triple the rate they did in 2014.
- Nearly three-quarters (73.5%) of youth ages 10 to 17 in treatment for substance abuse reported marijuana as their primary substance of use
- Men (22.9%) are using marijuana significantly more than women (15.1%)
Colorado lawmakers took action this year to address some of these concerns around youth cannabis usage, with Gov. Jared Polis signing a bill into law that will restrict daily purchases of concentrates and ensure their products explicitly state serving sizes.
Governor Jaris is advocating for $5 million for a new state fund to advance marijuana industry involvement among communities impacted by the War On Drugs, with the majority of funds going to small grants and low-interest loans.