Racial Disparities in Marijuana Enforcement Are Increasing Despite an Overall Drop in Arrests

California marijuana arrests declined 27% in 2019 from the previous year, according to crime rate figures from the California Department of Justice. There were 1,181 felony cannabis arrests in 2019 compared to 1,617 in 2018. Felony arrests fell to their lowest level since 1954.

However, racial disparities persist. Among those who were arrested for marijuana-related crimes in 2019, 42% were Hispanic, 22% were black, and just 21% were white. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) says the racial inequity in arrests actually grew between 2018 and 2019.

Racial disparities in the execution of cannabis laws have been a reality for a long time. The issue is getting renewed scrutiny since the death of George Floyd that sparked a nationwide movement against systemic racism and calls for criminal justice reform.