Let’s get real about marijuana. Living in Colorado, marijuana is enjoyed by millions of citizens safely and legally through licensed growers and regulated retail shops. Many decades of research have proven pot to be both safe and (for some) even medicinal. There have never been any reported deaths from marijuana (in its purest, untainted form), and it remains an arguably healthier alternative to alcohol and even some addictive prescription drugs. While marijuana is now legal and known to be relevantly harmless, there remains a large racial gap among those who continue to get arrested for its possession or production.
Let’s look at some facts. 90% of executives at the largest cannabis companies are white, and only 7% are black. Black people are 264% more likely than white people to be arrested for cannabis possession (nationally), even though they use at similar rates. Even in a state like Colorado, where weed is extremely accessible, and a relatively large amount of plants are allowed for personal production, Black people are still arrested more often than white people on pot-related charges. The marijuana arrest rate for Blacks is 160 per 100,000 – compared to only 76 per 100,000 for whites (nearly 50% less). While it’s fortunate that we live in a state with wide acceptance of the substance, we still can see a significant discrepancy in the rates at which people are arrested on marijuana charges. In fact, the disparity in arrests between Whites and Blacks hasn’t changed in any notable way since weed’s legalization in Colorado over a decade ago.
The majority of marijuana arrests are for possession. While it’s legal to consume the substance in your own home, you have to be over 21 to consume it legally (or 18 in the cases of medical marijuana). As such, many of those arrested for possession were either under 21 or consuming in public. To actually pick up the charge, though, an officer has to make the decision that you are worth their efforts to investigate. In many cases, Black people are the unfair target of those decisions.
While many statistics are disheartening, much good has still come out of weed’s legalization over a decade ago. The total number of marijuana arrests decreased by 68% between 2012 and 2019, and the amount of marijuana-related court cases declined by 55% between 2012 and 2019. Further, there have been no significant impacts on youth marijuana use since its legalization. However, until we start becoming more vocal about the racial disparities, the legality of marijuana in Colorado will continue to be an unfair advantage at the hands of Whites.
At Krizman Law, we recognize this and continue to fight for marijuana justice for all. The facts really speak for themselves when analyzing racial injustices in our criminal justice system.
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Mr. Krizman is a criminal defense attorney in Denver, Colorado. He specializes in providing relentless defense for domestic violence, DUI, and drug crimes. He is a former public defender who has also worked for a district attorney and is licensed in the State of Colorado, and the United States Federal Court, District of Colorado. Mr. Krizman is a member of the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar, Colorado Bar Association, Denver Bar Association, and Arapahoe County Bar Association. A Colorado native, he has a law degree from the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, and a bachelor’s degree in Government and World Affairs from the University of Tampa. Call him today at 720.819.7317.