Marijuana Legalization and Racial Disparities: Not So Simple After All

How many times have you heard that making pot illegal was “The New Jim Crow”, producing by design massive racial disparities in drug arrests? As is so often the case in drug policy, the data are unkind to theory.

About 18 months ago, Dr. Mike Males published a report showing that legalizing/decriminalizing marijuana had if anything made racial disparities in marijuana arrests worse. At the time, I thought that this might be some short-term effect of the early days of a new era in marijuana policy, so I did not write about it. But I did maintain a watching brief.

As it happened, I was talking with Mike a few weeks ago about his excellent piece on incarceration in Washington Monthly, and he mentioned that he had replicated his race and marijuana finding. Legalizing pot, it turns out, does nothing to change the relatively high rate at which Blacks are arrested for marijuana offenses. I write about that finding today at Washington Post’s Wonkblog.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Washington Monthly - Donate today and your gift will be doubled!

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University. He served as a senior policy advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy from 2009 to 2010.