Racial disparities in marijuana arrests draw scrutiny as COVID-19 devastates prisons and jails

Apr 22, 2020

As the global pandemic caused by COVID-19 devastates America’s jails and prison systems, arrests for cannabis-related infractions threaten to clog the criminal justice system, putting vulnerable populations at risk for the virus according to a new report out by the ACLU. In “A Tale of Two Countries: Racially Targeted Arrests in the Era of Marijuana Reform,” the civil liberties group finds that black Americans are 3.64 times more likely than whites to face arrest for marijuana, despite similar rates of usage. When the novel coronavirus makes social distancing nearly impossible in the already overcrowded prison system, the ACLU is calling for officials to reduce both arrests and the incarcerated population.

Although experts agree that fewer than 21 percent of America’s prison population includes drug offenders — an even smaller number of which are incarcerated for marijuana possession — what is undoubtedly clear is that clogging up the criminal justice system with any unnecessary arrests at this time could have harrowing consequences.

And still, the issue of racial disparities continues.

“In every single state, Black people were more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, and in some states, Black people were up to six, eight, or almost ten times more likely to be arrested,” wrote the study’s authors. “In 31 states, racial disparities were actually larger in 2018 than they were in 2010.”

Some states are worse than others. For example, in Montana and Kentucky, black Americans saw themselves arrested for marijuana possession at a rate nine times higher than their white counterparts. Conversely, in Alaska and Colorado, where cannabis is now legal, the disparities are much lower, although even there they still remain.

“The legalization of marijuana is not a panacea to solve the structural problems of systemic racism that persist in America,” said NORML’s Political Director Justin Strekal in a statement. “Nevertheless, legalizing and regulating cannabis reduces the total volume of marijuana arrests as well as one of the primary reasons for police interactions with the public -- interactions that have been historically abused by police against people of color.”

Courtesy ACLU

Lebanon becomes the first Arab country to legalize cannabis

According to reports from various sources, Lebanon has become the first Arab country to legalize cannabis for medical purposes. Lebanese legislators approved the law earlier this week, hoping to provide some economic incentive for the struggling country. As per a report in The National, the move to legalize was supported by Hezbollah's allies in the government as well as representatives of President Michel Aoun and Speaker Nabih Berri.

It’s a significant change for the Arab Nation, as Lebanon spent many years fighting a drug war of their own. 

“It is important to note that Lebanon spent many millions of foreign assistance dollars in the nineties to fight cannabis farming in the Bekaa,” Firas Maksad, a policy analyst and professor at George Washington University, told The National. “If regulated and taxed properly, this is a net positive for Lebanon.”

Lebanon has been one of the top global producers of cannabis over the past few years, having been ranked in the top five by The UN Office on Drugs and Crime. According to Bloomberg, legalization could generate up to $1 billion for their struggling economy.



Having fun on a socially distant 420

Although the 420 holiday was more laid back and muted this year thanks to social distancing and COVID-19, plenty of folks still managed to have some fun — including a few local police departments. Take, for example, this Tiger King-themed tweet from the Fort Collins PD, complete with every bad cannabis pun one could imagine.

“We'll be blunt - if you're ganja partake in 4/20 activities, weed preefer if you consume responsibly. Don't get your mota running - driving while impaired is illegal. Know your limits & follow the law (helpful chart below). Share this info with your buds. Dank you & be safe!”

And finally, perennial cannabis user Tommy Ching had some fun on Twitter this week when he asked his followers for some recommendations for a new fridge. Check out the results below...

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