There's a Major Problem Marijuana Legalization Has yet to Address

May 12th 2016

Alex Mierjeski

Legal recreational marijuana has led to significantly reduced cannabis-related arrests — but minorities are still disproportionately represented in marijuana arrest statistics.

A March report by Colorado's Department of Public Safety found that even after the state legalized recreational pot, Black and Latino adolescents had disproportionate arrest rates for marijuana crimes compared to whites. In fact, the discrepancy was even wider than before legalization.

The report states that between 2012 and 2014, Black 10- to 17-year-olds saw their marijuana arrest rates go up 58 percent, and Latinos experienced a 29 percent increase — all while juvenile marijuana arrests among white adolescents decreased by 8 percent.

The report explains, "schools with the highest proportion of minorities have a drug suspension rate 110 higher than schools with the lowest proportion of minorities."

According to a BuzzFeed News report on the disparities, even though a slightly larger percentage of Black and Latino high school students reported using pot in the past 30 days, the numbers in the report were still "wildly disproportionate" if the sample accurately represented the whole state.

Colorado's laws surrounding juvenile marijuana use are somewhat patchwork, depending on the county. Pueblo County, which has the highest rates of reported teen marijuana use, had only five related arrests in 2014. But Arapahoe County, which had slightly lower rates of use, saw nearly 400 arrests the same year.

Watch ATTN:'s report on medical cannabis in Colorado

School officials from districts with high arrest rates said the numbers are the result of case-by-case determinations — not race.

"All I can say is while it may seem disproportionate, those are the students we're catching with the drugs," Tustin Amole, who runs communications at Arapahoe's Cherry Creek Schools, told BuzzFeed News.

Minority arrest rates among adults also went up after the state legalized recreational cannabis — even while overall adult arrest rates for marijuana went down, BuzzFeed News reported.

Those numbers mirror national patterns, too. Even in states and cities where recreational weed is also legal, arrest rates over the drug dropped overall, while racial divides within those numbers remained steady or increased. Historically, minorities have been disproportionately targeted for marijuana (and other drug) abuse, even though whites have been shown to use and sell the drug at similar rates.