On Tuesday, the voters of Colorado voted to pass Amendment 64 which legalizes the recreational use of marijuana for adults 21 years old and above. It is groundbreaking legislation that will undoubtedly impel other states to start discussing legalizing marijuana for their residents as well.
Behind the successful legalization of marijuana in Colorado stands the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), among many other groups. They endorsed Amendment 64 on the reasoning that current marijuana laws put a disproportionate number of people of color behind bars. A report by the Denver Police Department for the city’s Marijuana Policy Review Panel showed that even though African-Americans make up less than 11% of the city population, they account for more than 31.5% of arrests for private adult marijuana possession.
Yet there is more to racial disparity in incarceration from marijuana use. Many studies have investigated the relationship between incarceration and health of not only the incarcerated but also their friends and family. The studies showed that prisoners and their families are in worse health both psychologically and physically compared to free people. The implication is if we legalize the use of marijuana, we can help reduce the disparity in incarceration between blacks and whites, thus diminishing the racial disparity in health between two groups. If a legal marijuana market is created, it would be worthwhile for academics or public to closely track whether the incarceration rate decreases among blacks compared to white counterparts, and whether that decrease contributes to reducing racial disparity in health.