Legalization advocates have long argued that prohibition disproportionately punishes African Americans and Hispanics. A recent report out of Colorado says that's still the case, even in a state that now has a legal, regulated cannabis market.
In a recent story in The Colorado Springs Independent, reporter Nat Stein highlights the data from a report produced by the Colorado Department of Public Safety which shows that black and Hispanic Americans are still being arrested at much higher rates than whites for cannabis-related offences.
The total number of arrests did drop - from 12,894 in 2012 to 7,004 in 2014 - but the number of marijuana arrests decreased by 51 percent for whites, 33 percent for Hispanics and 25 percent for African-Americans.
A Colorado police official wasn't sure why this was the case.
"Look, there is no blanket explanation," says Erie Police Chief Marc Vasquez, who also oversees the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police's marijuana committee, and used to work at the state Marijuana Enforcement Division, making him pretty familiar with policing in post-legalization Colorado.
"Often you'll see more crime, disorder issues in poorer areas. So that could be one reason that residents of minority communities are interacting with police more."
The Colorado Springs Independent did a good job spotlighting an issue that could get ignored by the all of the economic good news that has come with legalization in Colorado.
'Black market' thriving even in legal states
A new Atlantic magazine article digs a little deeper into the underlying issues that might be at play. In The Failed Promise of Legal Pot, Tom James frames the issues in much the same way as Stein:
"The dream of legal marijuana as it is being sold to the American public is that it will not only give states a chance to reap a tax windfall off of a drug millions of Americans already use; it will end the back-and-forth tussle among cops, users, and dealers, and shift police resources to more serious crimes," writes James. "Most compellingly, advocates hold out the promise of a major step toward dismantling one of the pillars of racially biased policing - the war on drugs - and finally reeling in a legal net that has long entangled black men at vastly disproportionate rates.
He then goes on to write - in a long piece with arguments that I can't do justice to here - that the black market is still alive and well in legal states like Colorado and Washington, mostly because taxes are high enough that small-time dealers - many of them black and supporting families with low-income jobs - are still providing people - again, many of them black Americans - with lower-cost cannabis.
"The street...is a draw for people who can't afford legal marijuana," he writes. "And in most urban centers, the people with the least are also usually people of color."