« Highlighting just some of the ways that "Democratic Leadership Is Missing In Action on Mass Incarceration" | Main | Is "geography" really an "arbitrary feature" of a capital prosecutions? »

May 31, 2016

"Marijuana Enforcement Disparities In California: A Racial Injustice"

The title of this post is the title of this new short new data reprt/analysis released by the Drug Policy Alliance and the ACLU of California. Here are excerpts from the start and end of this little report:

Effective January 1, 2011, California reduced the penalty for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana from a misdemeanor to an infraction.  Subsequently, misdemeanor marijuana arrests plummeted by 86 percent.  Although the penalty does not include jail, the offense is still punishable by up to a $100 fine plus fees, making the actual cost of an infraction much higher.  This can be a substantial burden for young and low-income people.  According to original research presented here, enforcement of marijuana possession — and the economic burden it entails — falls disproportionately on black and Latino people. The disparity is particularly acute for black people and young men and boys....

Infraction data are hard to come by in California.  The demographic profile of people issued marijuana possession infractions in Fresno and Los Angeles, however, demonstrates that enforcement continues to fall disproportionately on black and Latino people, particularly young men and boys.  In Los Angeles and Fresno 90% and 86% of marijuana possession infractions respectively were issued to men or boys.

These findings demonstrate that reducing penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana does not go far enough.  There are still substantial costs associated with an infraction, such as legal fees, court costs, and lost time at school or at work — and the burden of these costs most heavily impact young black men and boys.  While reducing marijuana possession to an infraction has dramatically decreased the number of marijuana arrests in the state, it has not sufficiently reduced the disparate manner in which marijuana laws are enforced.

Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

May 31, 2016 at 02:01 PM | Permalink


From 1978 to 12/31/2011 the punishment for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana was $100, but it was a misdemeanor. The change was in name only, not a reduction in punishment. Admittedly, because the previous offense was labeled a crime, CA law permitted free counsel for the indigent and a jury trial. I suppose the report makes a point, now they are not entitled to free counsel if indigent.

Additionally, the report does not address how many of the infractions are stand alone charges suggesting that the police are "targeting" black and Latino people. I suspect a substantial number are not stand alone charges and/or were discovered during a probation or parole search which dampens the argument that "black and Latino people are disproportionately targeted by law enforcement for low-level marijuana possession infractions." Targeting being the operative, and factually incorrect, word.

Posted by: David | Jun 1, 2016 9:42:29 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB