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Think Cannabis is ‘Essentially Legal’ in California? Think Again

August 19, 2016

With thousands of dispensaries and few obstacles to getting a medical recommendation, it can sometimes feel like cannabis is already legal in California. A sobering new report from the Drug Policy Alliance, however, reveals that’s hardly the case.

According to the advocacy group, law enforcement in the state made nearly half a million cannabis-related arrests during the past decade. And although arrests fell last year, some patterns remain disturbingly persistent.

Perhaps most worrying is the significant racial disparity in arrest rates. Despite similar use rates across groups, authorities disproportionately took black and Latino people into custody. The DPA report found that black people are twice were likely as whites to be arrested for cannabis misdemeanors and nearly five times more likely to be arrested on felony charges.

“While many people believe that marijuana is essentially legal in California, data show us that thousands continue to be arrested annually for marijuana activities,” said DPA staff attorney Jolene Forman. “These arrests fall disproportionately on black and Latino Californians. The only way to begin to repair these disparities is to move marijuana into a fully regulated market and to reduce or eliminate criminal prohibitions for minor marijuana activities.”

 This One Chart Captures Everything Wrong With NYC Cannabis Arrests

The statistics might come as a surprise given California’s global reputation for cannabis tolerance. In 1996 the state become the first in the U.S. to legalize cannabis for medical use. Lawmakers further criminal penalties for cannabis in 2011, making possession of up to an ounce of cannabis for personal use a civil infraction rather than a misdemeanor.

The change led to an 86-percent drop in misdemeanors, but felony arrests remained relatively stable at roughly 14,000 per year. In 2015 that number fell by a third, to just under 9,000, though the report doesn’t attempt to explain why.

Unfortunately, youth under 18 now account for the majority of cannabis misdemeanor arrests. Prior to 2011, when possession was decriminalized, minors accounted for only a quarter of misdemeanor cannabis arrests. As of 2015, youth account for two-thirds of misdemeanor cannabis arrests.

California voters will have an opportunity to legalize cannabis for recreational use this fall. Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, contains sentencing reforms that would reduce or eliminate most criminal penalties around cannabis. Even better, the reductions would apply retroactively to past offenses.

 Federal Court Bars Justice Department From Prosecuting Medical Cannabis

  • Geoff Jacobs

    To be quite honest, I thought my law enforcement brothers & sisters were smarter than this??
    WHY in the Hell are they wasting their and MY valuable time (and my money) screwing around with the enforcement of Cannabis laws?
    We and they all know that this plant is going to be legal very soon, at least to some degree, and realistically all of this effort is all futile and nothing but a show?? A “dog and pony show”! ‘Look at us! Look what we found, look what we seized and saved the world from this terrible, terrible plant that has killed no one, raped no one, robbed no one, stolen from no one, assaulted no one, etc…’
    In fact, while they are taking these innocent plants into custody that will soon be legal, ALCOHOL is running loose throughout the city, county, state and country addicting people, ruining families, causing domestic issues, serious medical issues up to and including death, serious injury and fatality traffic accidents, teenage alcoholism and many more issues that Cannabis does NOT!
    In closing, I’ll just say that these officers and officers all over our nation should not refuse to enforce Cannabis laws, but just give it a rest, folks.

    • di from Oregon

      My sentiments exactly Geoff. it’s all political posturing. Just wonder what the police are doing with this mmj the are confiscating, it’s mighty valuable, somebody got to be make money from it.

      • Lucas

        The goverment pays them if they make a certain amount of weed-related arrests.

        • Ken Rogers

          Care to show evidence of this claim?

          • Michael Altman

            AGREED. any evidence on that one lucas?

          • 174thandvyse

            I don’t need to see anything. It is a given that Anti-Marijuana imbeciles are just that…IMBECILES!!!

  • Levi Bourne

    Bottom line,
    Too much government. If you are not hurting anyone else and you are an adult, why is it illegal ?? Cannabis is a medicinal plant period ! All cannabis supporters need to stand together and vote All prohibitionists Out of All public offices, judges, sheriffs, politicians, mayors, all that oppose must go. When we come together with one voice cannabis can and will become completely legal.

    • All the people who have been convicted for felony cannabis offenses have lost their privilege to vote. The more DAs convict, the fewer voters. Maybe there’s a pattern here?

  • SailerJerry

    My 91 year old mother has Parkinson’s disease and has shaking and intermittent anxiety attacks and CBD patches have helped her tremendously with both problems. I for one am amazed at the research and constant new findings about the benefits of CBD to replace medications with bad side effects. The government really needs to get off the pious Marijuana leads to harder drugs bullshit. In reality I have found that disease leads to having to buy harder drugs from the doctor that the pharmaceutical company’s push. Marijuana negates a lot of the hard drug opioid addiction and hard drugs with bad side effects issues…………