On Friday, while many people celebrated 4/20, known in pop culture as ‘weed day,’ overwhelming numbers of African-Americans remained in jail for petty marijuana possession charges. The fact is that while stoner pride is growing as the legalization of pot in many states has created a booming new industry, the effects of this victory are not being experienced equally by everyone.
According to the ACLU, from 2001 to 2010, across the country blacks were four times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession. And in Iowa, D.C., Minnesota, and Illinois, the numbers were even higher: blacks were 7.5 to 8.5 more likely than whites to be arrested for having weed. Now, while the tide is turning on marijuana, such people who were racially targeted by law enforcement are still incarcerated.
Since legalization, there has not been much of an improvement in these unequal rates. While the arrest rates for marijuana have dropped overall since legalization, blacks are still arrested at a higher rate than whites. In fact in 2014 in Colorado, the marijuana arrest rate for black people was still almost three times that of whites.
Not only are African-Americans being kept imprisoned for doing the same things white people are now making a profit on, they are being excluded from the new and highly profitable marijuana industry.
The legal marijuana industry is notoriously white. A 2017 Buzzfeed investigation into the exclusion of black people from America’s weed boom estimated that less than 1% of cannabis dispensary owners across the United States are black. They found that of the 3,200 to 3,600 storefront marijuana dispensaries in the United States, “fewer than three dozen” were owned by blacks.
White people are taking advantage of the change in public opinion on marijuana and its profitability as a new market while turning a blind eye to the blatant racism which was at the root of its original prohibition.
So in regard to recent 4/20 celebrations, remember that while legal marijuana businesses are flourishing, there are black people deteriorating in jail for low-level marijuana possession.