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Cannabis arrests in California down 27%, but racial disparities increase

Cannabis arrests in California

The latest marijuana news reveals that the number of cannabis arrests in California was on a declining trend in 2019 in the age of legalization. However, one tendency remained constant—those arrests still target more Hispanics and Blacks compared to their white counterparts.

According to the information released by the California Department of Justice earlier this month, there were 1,181 felony cannabis arrests in the state in 2019, down from 1,617 in 2018. That change represented a 27% decline within the first year of broad legalization. 

Demographically, Hispanics accounted for almost 42 percent of those arrests, followed by Blacks at 22 percent and whites at 21 percent. Other groups shared the remaining percentage points. 

‘Harassment went up’ despite reduced arrests

The report also revealed that while the overall number of arrests reduced in 2019, “the harassment went up,” as said by Donnie Anderson, co-founder of California Minority Alliance, which is a cannabis trade group.

On the same breath, Ellen Komp, the deputy director of the NORML California chapter said the figures reveal the level of difficulty that many Hispanic and Black growers and sellers have had in their quest for a legal market. It involves heavy investment costs, regulatory fees, and taxes. 

Komp added that the percentage of Black and Hispanic arrests “is troubling, especially now that we’ve legalized it. It’s legal if you have the venture capital to open up on Main Street.”

Racial disparities persist in the system

While the report did not include simplified data on the charges, they could include unauthorized cultivation and sales of cannabis products or sales to a minor. According to NORML, the number of misdemeanour arrests decreased slightly in 2019, from 3,835 in 2018 to 3,769 in 2019.

In a statement, NORML revealed that Black residents were 4.47 times more likely to face arrest for a marijuana-related crime in California in 2019 than their white counterparts. That was a slight increase compared to the 2018 figures when the number stood at 4.05 times as often. Hispanic residents were also nearly twice more likely to be arrested for a marijuana crime than the whites, showing an increase from 2018.

Fewest cannabis arrests in California in six decades

According to NORML, 2019 marked the year with the lowest number of cannabis arrests in California since 1954. The state legalized marijuana in 2018 after a vote approval by citizens in 2016. Generally, California treats marijuana like alcohol, with only people 21 years and older allowed to legally possess a maximum of an ounce of the substance. 

They are also allowed to grow only six cannabis plants at home. Besides, those engaged in selling, growing, or manufacturing cannabis in the legal market must obtain a license from the state. 

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Ashley Combs

Ashley is a writer with a strong understanding of and passion for the cannabis market. At, she covers everything from the cannabis stock market, cannabis market regulations to cannabis legalization news from the USA and worldwide. She loves cats 😼

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