A new report released by the Drug Policy Alliance Thursday reveals that nearly 500,000 people have been arrested on charges related to marijuana in the last decade. Nearly 9,000 felony arrests related to weed were made in 2015 alone in California, according to the report. Most disturbingly, the report found that black and Latino people are much more likely to be arrested for marijuana in California.
The numbers of arrests may seem surprising to some, given that the state has long had (relatively) lax marijuana laws. In 1996, California passed Prop. 215, a law that enables patients to receive a prescription for medical marijuana for a broad and varied number of medical complaints. But even twenty years after the law was put into place, California has still been racking up arrests for marijuana charges, particularly among the state's black and Latino population.
Specifically, the report found that, while white, black, and Latino people use and sell weed at similar rates, "black people were more than twice as likely as white people to be arrested for a marijuana misdemeanor and nearly five times more likely than white people to be arrested for a marijuana felony" in 2015. The report also found that "Latino people are arrested for marijuana offenses 35 percent more often than white people in California" and added that the arrests of Latinos on marijuana charges could be even higher. "California has a long history of data collection challenges regarding Latino people, who are often classified by law enforcement officers as white," the report states.
In a press release regarding the new report, Jolene Forman, staff attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance said:
While many people believe that marijuana is essentially legal in California, data show us that thousands continue to be arrested annually for marijuana activities. These arrests fall disproportionately on black and Latino Californians. The only way to begin to repair these disparities is to move marijuana into a fully regulated market and to reduce or eliminate criminal prohibitions for minor marijuana activities.
The issue of marijuana legality in California is up for a big vote in November, when constituents will have the opportunity to vote on Prop. 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. If passed, the new law would do away with or significantly reduce sentencing for most existing weed crimes. The law would also work retroactively, meaning existing marijuana offenders who are serving time in California could petition to be released. Further, those with arrest records for marijuana offenses could have the offense cleared from their criminal record.