CRIMINAL OFFENCE RATES
Pro-marijuana advocates argue that legalisation will increase ‘social justice’, but if there are issues of systemic injustice and racism, the U.S. experience is showing that legalisation does not address the root of these issues and instead only exacerbates these problems by promoting increased drug use and the accompanying negative social consequences in disadvantaged communities. Disparities in drug use and criminal offence rates continue to exist between different racial and income groups in US states which have legalised.
The District of Columbia saw public consumption and distribution arrests nearly triple between the years 2015 and 2016, and a disproportionate number of those marijuana-related arrests occur among African-Americans. Colorado has seen a similar trend.
In states that have legalised marijuana, minority youth are showing much larger increases in use of marijuana than their Caucasian counterparts (Johnson, 2018). Colorado marijuana arrests for young African-American and Hispanic youth have increased since legalisation. The 2017 marijuana-related African American arrest rate in Colorado is nearly twice that of Caucasians (233 in 100,000 versus 118 in 100,000) (Colorado Department of Public Safety (2018) Impacts of Marijuana Legalization in Colorado: A Report Pursuant to Senate Bill 13-283. Division of Criminal Justice.)
In Washington D.C., between 2015 and 2017 (the years immediately following legalisation), although total marijuana-related arrests have gone down, distribution and public consumption arrests more than tripled. Among adults, 89% of marijuana distribution or public consumption arrestees were African American (DC Metropolitan Policy Department, 2018)
The reason? According to a 2013 survey conducted by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, black and Hispanic youth are slightly more likely to use marijuana than their white counterparts: About 17% of white high school students reportedly used pot in the previous 30 days, while 25.9% of black students and 23.6% of Hispanic students did.
Source: SAM – (Colorado Department of Public Safety, 2018).
In a similar trend to alcohol outlets and pokie machine venues in New Zealand, communities of colour are being subjected to disproportionate targeting by marijuana facilities in the US. In Los Angeles, the majority of dispensaries have opened primarily in African-American communities.
An overlay of socioeconomic data with the geographic location of pot shops in Denver, Colorado shows marijuana stores are located primarily in disadvantaged neighbourhoods. Those with a household income below $25,000 had a 20% current-use rate compared to a 11% rate among households with income levels of $50,000 or greater.
In Oregon, the state conducted an analysis on the distribution of state-sanctioned dispensaries and found that sites were disproportionately concentrated among low-income and historically disenfranchised communities (McVey, 2017; Smith, 2017).
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 28% of women living in low-income areas tested positive for marijuana use during pregnancy. Another study by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reported that young women from lower income levels have a 15–28% rate of marijuana use during pregnancy. Up to 60% of these young women continue marijuana use throughout pregnancy due to a decreased perception of risk and stigma. Between 34 and 60% of marijuana users continue marijuana use throughout pregnancy due to a decreased perception of risk and stigma (The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 2017).
A new study examining why people become homeless has found that daily marijuana use significantly increases men’s likelihood of becoming homeless. The Melbourne University research found that for men, using cannabis daily increases their likelihood of becoming homeless by age 30 by 7-14 percentage points. Almost 50% of the sample had used drugs regularly (cannabis daily and/or hard drugs weekly) by the age of 30. The researchers say; “Our research suggests that early interventions to reduce cannabis use may be effective in reducing the number of boys and young men who become homeless
It is argued that the easy availability of marijuana after legalisation also appears to have a possible link to Colorado’s growing homeless population. While overall U.S. homelessness decreased between 2013 and 2014 as the country moved out of the recession, Colorado was one of 17 states that saw homeless numbers increase during that time. Perhaps not coincidentally, it was also when Colorado legalised “recreational-use” marijuana and allowed retail sales to begin. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported a 13% increase in Colorado’s homeless population from 2015 and 2016. The rate of homelessness among Colorado children has increased 50%.
Business owners and officials in Durango, Colorado, testify that the resort town “suddenly became a haven for recreational pot users, drawing in transients, panhandlers, and a large number of homeless drug addicts.”
An Australian mother who chronicled the downward spiral of her 25-year-old drug-addicted son has received overwhelming praise for exposing the harsh reality of “human misery”. “His family says Dan had a privileged upbringing; he was raised with a private education and grew up to travel overseas and gain full-time employment. It was when Dan began dabbling in marijuana with his “peers”, that his life seemed to go downhill.
In the U.S., legalisation has been heralded as a way to reduce the number of people of colour incarcerated. Yet despite reductions in the arrests for marijuana possession in states that have legalised, the prison population has remained stable and in some cases actually reversed years of decrease to an increase since legalisation. While it is too early to say whether legalisation has caused these increases in the prison population, we can objectively state that it has not decreased the prison population anywhere.