Racial Arrest Disparities Increase as Marijuana Arrests Decline in California

July 14, 2020 – Arrest data released by the California Dept. of Justice show there were 1,181 felony marijuana arrests in California in 2019, down 27% from 2018 (1,617 arrests) and the lowest number since 1954.

Latinos accounted for 493 or 41.7% of arrests; blacks for 263 (22.3%) and whites for 252 (21.3%).  Males were 87.9% of those arrested for felonies, and juvenile felony arrests numbered 91.

2019’s misdemeanor marijuana arrests were down slightly in 2019: they numbered 3,769, versus 3,835 in 2018.Hispanics were even more disproportionately arrested for misdemeanors, coming in at 1,869  or 49.6% of arrests, with blacks accounting for 509 arrests (13.5%) and whites 837 (22.2%). Again males were most often arrested for marijuana misdemeanors (78.1%) with females arrested 21.9% of the time. Juvenile misdemeanor arrests totaled 1,209  or 32% of the total.

Weighting the arrest data by population means that arrest disparities increased for each race vs. whites compared to the previous year: Blacks were 4.47 times more likely than whites to be arrested for a marijuana crime in California in 2019, vs. 4.05 times as often in 2018; for Latinx people the arrest disparity vs. whites rose to 2.02 times in 2019 vs. 1.66 times in 2018.* Since Californians legalized cannabis for adults in November 2016, racial arrest disparities have climbed.

Felony arrests for marijuana numbered 1,101 in 1954; by 1960 they had climbed to 64,880, and in 1974 over 100,000 people were arrested for marijuana in California. The 1975 Moscone decriminalization bill, backed by Cal NORML, defelonized possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, and arrest numbers were nearly halved by 1976, when 34,110 people were arrested for misdemeanors and 19,284 for felonies. In 2011, petty possession was downgraded to an infraction and in 2016, adult recreational use and licensed sales were legalized, with other crimes downgraded to misdemeanors. See previous years’ data for California marijuana arrests.

Past marijuana convictions are in the process of being downgraded or wiped from peoples’ records in California.

In 2019, DUI Arrests dipped back near their 2017 record low after a slight blip upward the previous year: 2019 saw 124,928 DUI arrests, vs. 128,053 in 2018 and 123,318 in 2017.  (Previous years’ DUI arrests ranged from 131,000 to 211,000.)

*This calculation used 2018 estimated CA census data for both 2018 & 2019: 36.6% Non-Hispanic White, 5.8% Black, and 39.3% Hispanic. An update from July 2019 estimates that the Black population rose to 6.5%, which would being their arrest disparity closer to 4; still unacceptable. Other years’ disparities were calculated using estimated census data for those years.

Also see:

AP: Pot Arrests Still Fall Heavily On Hispanics, Blacks

Previous years’ data for California marijuana arrests.

Links Between Cannabis Racial Arrest Disparities and Tax Dollars for Police Studied

California, All States Still Showing Racial Disparity in Marijuana Arrest Rates

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