Marijuana Infractions Unevenly Enforced Against People of Color in California

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marijuana-smoke(ACLU Press Release) – New data analyses conducted by the Drug Policy Alliance and ACLU of California find that racial disparities in marijuana policing have persisted, following the reduction of low-level marijuana possession from a misdemeanor to an infraction in 2011. Possession of under an ounce of marijuana is punishable in California by a base fine up to $100 (plus substantial fees).

Despite marijuana usage rates being similar across racial and ethnic lines, data provided by the Los Angeles and Fresno Police Departments show that black and Latino people in those cities were issued marijuana possession citations at higher rates than white people in the years immediately following the penalty change from misdemeanor to infraction.

The data also reveal that marijuana possession enforcement falls mostly on young people. In both cities, the majority of infractions were issued to persons 29 years of age and younger.

In both cities black people are issued marijuana possession infractions at nearly 4 times the rate of white people and Latinos are cited at nearly 1.5 times the rate of white people. In Los Angeles, approximately 1 in 532 black people are cited for a marijuana possession infraction as compared to 1 in 1,351 Latinos and 1 in 1,923 white people. The numbers are even more stark in Fresno, where approximately 1 out of every 200 black people are issued marijuana infractions as compared to 1 in 457 Latinos and 1 in 800 white people.

“Racial disparities in marijuana enforcement are widespread and longstanding. Los Angeles and Fresno are very different places; yet they reveal similar disparities. It’s likely that young black and Latino Californians experience these disparities statewide,” said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, Criminal Justice and Drug Policy director for the ACLU of California. “A $100 citation can easily become several times that, after all the fees are added. This presents a significant burden for young people and low-income families.”

“It is disappointing to see that even at the level of infractions, California law enforcement are incapable of applying the law equally across racial lines,” said Alice Huffman, president of the CA-Hawaii NAACP. “I am hopeful that full legalization as proposed in the Adult Use of Marijuana Act will drastically reduce the numbers of young people of color being funneled into the criminal justice system for minor drug offenses.”

In November 2016, Californians will have the chance to vote for the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA). Voting for the AUMA will not only regulate the marijuana industry in the state but will also remove marijuana possession penalties both prospectively and retroactively for adults. For youth, these penalties will be replaced with drug treatment and education in an effort to reduce the harms associated with criminal justice involvement at an early age.

“While many may believe that marijuana is already legal in California, these data show that young adults of color continue to experience hugely disproportionate enforcement,” said Amanda Reiman, manager of Marijuana Law and Policy for the Drug Policy Alliance. “The only way to begin to unravel this legacy of disparate enforcement is to move marijuana into a fully regulated market at the statewide level.”

Learn more

Fact Sheet: Why Marijuana Decriminalization Isn’t Enough

Report: Marijuana Enforcement Disparities In California: A Racial Injustice

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17 thoughts on “Marijuana Infractions Unevenly Enforced Against People of Color in California”

  1. Anon

    More “evidence” that drugs should be legalized because of racial disparities in marijuana policing?  See: http://www.newsweek.com/unexpected-side-effects-legalizing-weed-339931

    The wave of enthusiasm following the passage of Amendment 64 has given way to a drip, drip, drip of unintended consequences. Law-enforcement issues, such as marijuana-intoxicated driving and the illegal movement of vast amounts of cannabis product into other states, are the tip of the iceberg….
    Other symptoms of Colorado’s pot culture include increased use among teens, resulting in educational problems in middle schools and high schools, a spike in “edibles”-related emergency room visits, consumption by children and pets resulting in illness and death and regulatory confusion surrounding public consumption and enforcement.
    Colorado’s addiction to cannabis revenue may prove to be the most harmful implication of all. Towns such as De Beque, where cannabis is replacing coal and cattle as a means of income, imperil themselves by staking the future on a substance that is still illegal in most states and that half of Americans still regard as a social evil...”

  2. Tia Will

    Possession of under an ounce of marijuana is punishable in California by a base fine up to $100 (plus substantial fees).”

    And herein lies a major part of the problem. Not only are those of lower socioeconomic means  ( frequently but not exclusively minorities) cited at a higher rate than others, they are less able to pay fines and thus become effectively “criminalized” not just for their use of the drug but for being too poor to pay their fines. A recent article in the New York times featured just how such “criminalization for being poor” plays out in individual lives.

    www.nytimes.com/2009/08/09/opinion/09ehrenreich.html

     

    1. Jerry Waszczuk

      Ms. Mia

      Poor people should not smoke at all . It cost money .  When I moved from Texas to Washington State and I could not find good pay job and  I had to work for Men Power temporary job agency for $ 3.35 /hr   than I  quit smoking cigarettes right away to have money for  food and fruits for my children .  Are you trying to say that the  poor people have no brain and  they have to smoke  or government should provide them pot to make them happy .?

      This  is sounds  like . Why you poor , because you  are stupid . Why you  stupid, because you are poor.

      1. Tia Will

        Jerry

        Are you trying to say that the  poor people have no brain and  they have to smoke  or government should provide them pot to make them happy .?”

        This  is sounds  like . Why you poor , because you  are stupid . Why you  stupid, because you are poor.”

        No. I am not trying to say that, nor did I say anything of the sort. If you believe that the affluent do not use marijuana and other drugs you are closing your eyes to a fact of our society.  If you do not believe that poor people are treated differently than are the more affluent, please check out the situation of people who cannot raise bail and therefore are incarcerated thus risking losing their jobs, cars, homes, children for the “crime” of being poor and so do not benefit from the “innocent until proven guilty” premise that protects the more affluent simply because they can afford bail. I cannot think of a single aspect of our judicial system in which the affluent are not treated preferentially over the poor. Perhaps Anon as a lawyer can share a different opinion, but I have seen far too many cases such as the recent Stanford rape case in which the perpetrator was sentenced to six months so that his “life would not be ruined” despite the brutality of his actions to believe that we have established equality under the law.

        1. Jerry Waszczuk

          Ms. Tia

          I worded in incorrectly my statement. I meant  to say that you implied .  I believe that poor folks are being  threaded differently and I experienced myself .  If I would have Chancellor Katehi money that I would be represented by Melinda Guzman not myself  struggling with briefs and other legal stuff . This is not the point. I am saying that people  have brain and they should not spend money on pot , cigarettes and alcohol when they have no money to eat .  This is my point . If they will be not smoking and selling pot and crack on the corners that police will stay away from them.   Selling drugs  is a crime . I don’t feel much sorry for people who are deliberately braking law knowing that that they are breaking the law and facing cops and prison without ability to defend themselves .

          I know that it is a social problem and war on drugs is going forever because this business provides  employment for  thousands of agents from law enforcement agencies , prison guards , hospitals , lawyers , psychiatrists , psychologists and  rehabilitation facilities.   Lack of employment in manual labor produced millions of poor .

          Look at cigarettes . America stopped smoking cigarettes . If it was possible to achieve than what is the problems with drugs use . /  Complicated.

        2. The Pugilist

          “So then don’t sell or take drugs then you won’t have to worry about paying fines, bail or doing time.  That simple.”

          So it’s okay to enforce the law against some people but not others because it’s their fault that they did the drugs in the first place?  So we should not enforce tax laws against wealthy people but only against poor people because they are easier to catch and won’t have expensive lawyers?  I just don’t get the logic here.  Don’t we have a clause in the constitution that insures equal protection under the law – this violates it.

  3. South of Davis

    The ACLU wrote:

    > data provided by the Los Angeles and Fresno Police Departments show

    > that black and Latino people in those cities were issued marijuana possession

    > citations at higher rates than white people

    If you drive through Pacific Heights or East Sacramento today you will probably not see any white people 1. Selling dime bags of pot to people in cars or 2. Hanging out on the corner smoking pot and drinking 40’s.

    If you drive through Hunters Point or South Sacramento today you will probably see multiple black people 1. Selling dime bags of pot to people in cars and 2. Hanging out on the corner smoking pot and drinking 40’s.

    It is not that cops are “racist” it is that they just cite the people that “break the law in front of them”.  I have never seen a white kid in a wealthy white neighborhood 1. Selling pot or 2. Smoking pot on the corner, while if I had a dollar for every time I saw a black kin in a poor black neighborhood 1. Selling Pot or 2. Smoking Pot on the corner I could pay cash for a Ferrari….

    1. David Greenwald

      SOD: It doesn’t matter if the police are racist or not, the problem is that unequal enforcement of laws undermines the rule of law.

      1. South of Davis

        David wrote:

        >  the problem is that unequal enforcement of laws undermines the rule of law.

        1. Do you believe that cops would allow white kids to sell and smoke pot in front of Davis High and only (unequally) “enforce the law” if black kids were selling and smoking pot out in the open?

        2. Do you believe that (other than at concerts) white kids smoke and sell pot out in the open more or less than black kids? (If you think they do it more please tell me where these large numbers of white kids and selling and smoking pot out in the open).

        The problem is not “unequal enforcement of laws” it is “unequal breaking of laws”.  I have no idea why even the poorest pot smoking white kids close the doors and blinds in their double wide before taking out the bong while you will probably see 10 black kids smoking blunts out in the open if you drive through Oak Park or Del Paso Heights right now.

  4. Tia Will

    BP

    So then don’t sell or take drugs then you won’t have to worry about paying fines, bail or doing time.  That simple.”

    So is it your belief that people should receive different punishments for the same crime ? And, yes. I know that you didn’t say that. I am just asking since I never defended breaking the law, and that is the only issue you chose to address which makes me think that perhaps you do not believe in equal treatment under the law.

    1. quielo

      Tia, I not sure there is any right answer to some of these questions. In CA it is required to have liability insurance. The lower the SES to less likely a person is to have insurance and the more likely they are to be cited. Is this racist?

  5. Tia Will

    Jerry

    I worded in incorrectly my statement. I meant  to say that you implied “

    Still wrong. I implied no such thing. You may have inferred that, but no where in anything that I wrote was there any such an assertion or implication. You might wonder why I make so much of this. I truly dislike people telling me what I believe. I can decide that quite nicely for myself without anyone telling me what my thoughts and beliefs are. I fully respect everyone’s right to tell their own truth and share their own ideas. I truly dislike people telling me that they know better than I what I am saying.

    I grew up quite poor. My father was a very intelligent man. My mother, not so much so, but her other qualities more than made up for the lack of an agile, intelligent mind. I have respect for people for their positive traits regardless of what station in life they hold and resent any implication otherwise especially from someone who does not know me at all.

    1. Frankly

      I have respect for people for their positive traits regardless of what station in life they hold

      This is a great position and one that I wish more people would demonstrate.  But at this point and time in American society, there is little true respect being paid to those holding a station of work-class conservative… unless belonging to a recognized victim group.

      I truly dislike people telling me that they know better than I what I am saying.

      This sounds like Hillary Clinton:

      “Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night and decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference – at this point, what difference does it make?”

      “My position on illegal immigration is much different that Donald Trump because I supported a fence being built, not a wall.”

      There seems to be this need in some people to have the meaning of their words exist in a space of nuance so that they can wiggle out of responsibility for any specific meaning.   Too bad we cannot all say what we mean and mean what we say.

       

  6. Frankly

    The “data” on this is politicized and corrupted by the liberal bias that permeates the social science field.  The primary reason that people of certain color are over-represented in police encounters is that people of certain color are over-represented in crime.

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