A new study from the American Medical Association (AMA)has found that the states that have decriminalized or legalized cannabis see “large reductions in race-based arrest among adults.” At the same time, states that continue to criminalize marijuana experience “increases in arrest rate disparities.” The study looked at data from 43 states and recognized a clear pattern: Although it may appear obvious, ending or easing restrictions criminalizing marijuana correlates with significant arrest decreases compared to states that haven’t legalized cannabis. The examination of arrests, which primarily observed trends relating to race, compared findings from 2008 to 2019.
Analysts from Eastern Virginia Medical School and Saint Louis University saw states that legalized marijuana found 561 fewer arrests per 100,000 Black people and 195 fewer arrests for white people on average over that time specifically. Decriminalization, on the other hand, was analogous with approximately 449 fewer arrests per 100,000 African-Americans and a deficit of 117 for white people. In comparison, “cannabis arrests for adults and youth increased over time in states that did not implement a cannabis policy change,” as reported by the study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Health Forum concluded. Beyond raw arrest rates, racial dissimilarities in arrests also increased in states that continued cannabis prohibition while dropping in states that implemented marijuana reform.
Analysts say, “Overall, results revealed that states that implemented a cannabis policy change saw large decreases in arrests compared with states that had no policy reform.” On the other hand, they mentioned that the timing of these trends (after reform implementation) raised “questions about the generalizability of these effects to other states.” Researchers discovered another nuance: cannabis arrest data on youth indicated that young people faced a lower risk of being arrested under simple decriminalization than legalization. The authors wrote, “Absolute arrest trends showed little change in White and Black youth arrest in states that implemented cannabis legalization, which was unsurprising, considering that youths are excluded from a legalized market that targets policies to address youth arrest disparities, as well as continued monitoring of policy effects.”
The study affirmed something that cannabis reform advocates have long argued: “States that did not implement any policy change showed no meaningful change in arrests for White individuals and an increase for Black individuals, thereby increasing the arrest rate disparity over time.” The case study continued, “The decrease in possession arrests among decriminalization states coinciding with its implementation suggests that the policy itself is accounting for the change.” It notes, “while states that implemented legalization were already experiencing marked reductions in arrests before the policy, states with decriminalization show evidence that the policy itself is the most salient impetus of an arrest rate reduction.” The researchers finished by saying that while the results “do not ambiguously favor decriminalization nor legalization, increases in arrest rate disparities in states without either policy highlight the need for targeted interventions to address racial injustice.”
This overwhelming amount of research and data clearly shows why there needs to be more push for marijuana legalization and extensive cannabis research. The push for legalization has so much more weight and power and necessity behind it than just the desire the kick back with a bong at the end of a long day; it’s rooted in the drastic need for true reform and a radical end to disproportionately racist trends.