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Marijuana Arrests in Colorado Down for White Teens, Skyrockets for Blacks


The Colorado Department of Public Safety looked at the number of juvenile marijuana arrests in kids ages 10 to 17 between 2012 and 2014 and found some interesting disparities.

The number of Black kids arrested for marijuana-related incidents in Colorado has actually gone up since the state legalized the drug for recreational use. African-American juvenile arrests rose by 58 percent, while arrests for white juveniles fell by 8 percent.

The marijuana arrest rate for African-Americans of all ages is nearly three times that of whites in Colorado.

The department quietly released a report on the findings in March. A recent investigation by BuzzFeed brought the state back to into the spotlight.

Voters passed the Colorado Marijuana Legalization Initiative, also known as Amendment 64, in November of 2012. The report used that year to determine pre-legalization arrests. Recreational marijuana was not fully regulated and commercialized in the state until January 1, 2014.

The report examined data from the Colorado Department of Education, which includes trends on suspensions, expulsions and law enforcement associated with drugs. While the data does not specify whether marijuana was the drug leading to disciplinary action, the report says since marijuana is the drug most commonly used among youth, the trends in discipline could be linked to marijuana usage.

The report states:

  • The drug suspension rates are lowest in schools with a smaller proportion of minorities.
  • In schools with a proportion of minorities 25 percent or lower, there are 313 drug suspensions per 100,000 students.
  • The drug suspension rate in schools with 51 percent to 75 percent minority is 651 per 100,000 students, and in schools where the minority population is over three-quarters, the drug suspension rate is 658 per 100,000 students.
  • Schools with the highest proportion of minorities have a drug suspension rate 110 percent higher than schools with the lowest proportion of minorities.

The numbers out of Colorado reflect the nationwide inequities in marijuana arrests. Black people across the country are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, according to a 2013 report by the American Civil Liberties Union.

“The War on Marijuana in Black and White” was the first to analyze marijuana possession arrests by race in all 50 states, including the District of Columbia, from 2001 to 2010.

The report revealed that although Blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates, Black people are more likely to be arrested for possession “in all regions of the country, in counties large and small, urban and rural, wealthy and poor, and with large and small Black populations.”

“Indeed, in over 96% of counties with more than 30,000 people in which at least 2% of the residents are Black, Blacks are arrested at higher rates than whites for marijuana possession,” the report reads.

The War on Marijuana is a failure, the report concluded, that has devastated countless in the African-American community, preventing offenders from obtaining suitable housing, gainful employment, student financial aid assistance, child custody…the list goes on and on.

And the state of Colorado has a pattern of disproportionately applied justice with its Black residents.

The state came under public scrutiny for its capital punishment policy in 2013 — the same year state legislators mulled over a bill that would repeal the death penalty. The proposal quickly died when Gov. John Hickenlooper voiced opposition, referencing a particular Black death row inmate.

The state rarely issues death sentences but those handed out apparently, are not equally distributed, per ThinkProgress. The independent blog reported African-Americans make up just 4.3 percent of the state population, but account for 100 percent of the state’s death row inmates.

The state’s three death row inmates are all Black. They all hail from the same county. And they were all under 21 when their crimes were committed.

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