Decriminalisation Reduces Racial Disparity in Cannabis Arrest Rates, Study Shows

Cannabis Arrest Decriminalisation - GCI Content Hub - Global Cannabis Intelligence

New research suggests that cannabis decriminalisation plays a meaningful role in reducing the racial disparity in arrest rates over possession.

A new study has found that cannabis decriminalisation policies reduce the racial disparity in arrests for possession, Forbes reports.

Black people have been disproportionately more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession and related crimes than white people, despite a similar rate of cannabis use.

In this peer-reviewed study, researchers from the University of California San Diego considered the FBI Uniform Crime Report data from 37 U.S. states from 2000 to 2019.

What does the data say?

This analysis suggests that cannabis decriminalisation was associated with a “substantial” decline in arrest rates across the board. Arrest rates for cannabis possession declined by over 70% among adults and over 40% among youths, following decriminalisation in 11 states.

Findings show that decriminalisation is reducing the racial disparity in cannabis possession arrests. The racial disparity among adults decreased by 17% between Black and white populations. However, there was no evidence for reductions in racial disparity between Black and white young people after criminalisation.

The data suggests that the racial disparity decline is critically connected with recreational cannabis laws. Medical cannabis laws, on the other hand, were not found to be closely linked to arrest rates.

Researchers emphasized that although decriminalisation laws differ state by state, that the overall reduction in arrest rates is proof of the beneficial effects of cannabis decriminalisation in racial disparity.

Decriminalisation particularly reduces cannabis possession arrests in the Black population, who are suffering the most from adverse consequences of criminal penalties.

“These findings suggested that cannabis decriminalization had its intended consequence of reducing arrests and may have potential to reduce racial disparity in arrests, at least among adults,” the study reads.

The study provides evidence to lawmakers and public health researchers that cannabis liberalisation policies will reduce the racial disparity in arrests.

Researchers were unable to assess whether the decline in racial disparity across adult populations was due to individual cannabis possession behaviours or because of behaviour changes in law enforcement officers.

The study highlights that it is possible that law enforcement behaviours did not change, with Black people still being more likely to be stopped, questioned or searched for cannabis possession than white people after decriminalisation.

However, if these behaviours didn’t result in arrests because of decriminalisation, racial disparity in arrests would still decline. It is also possible that Black people have responded to criminalisation by possessing cannabis quantities below the threshold amount for the lowest level of criminal offence, compared to white people.

Cannabis reform reduces racial disparity

Heading into 2022, 18 states have legalised recreational cannabis. Most legalisation laws have focussed their attention on creating social programs that rehabilitate communities adversely impacted by the war on drugs.

Data from the Drug Policy Alliance shows that of the one million plus who were arrested for drug violations in 2020, Black people constituted 24% of those arrested, despite only representing only 13% of the U.S. population overall.

This study confirms that cannabis reform — by way of decriminalisation and regulation — plays a meaningful role in reducing racial disparity in arrests among adults.

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