Marijuana Arrests of Blacks Nearly Twice Those of Whites in Colorado

From 2010 to 2018, black people were about four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people.
From 2010 to 2018, black people were about four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people. Flickr/Steve Baker
Colorado has the least disproportionate rate when you compare marijuana arrests for white and black people in the country, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, but it's still far from equal.

The ACLU's recent report examines arrests of both whites and blacks for marijuana possession from 2010 to 2018, compiling data across the country, and comparing statistics for every 100,000 people. The conclusion? Black people were about four times more likely to be arrested for possessing marijuana than white people.

Montana and Kentucky had the most disparate rates, with over nine black people arrested for marijuana possession for every white person. (That ratio is particularly startling for Montana, which has a tiny African-American population.) Illinois, West Virginia and Iowa all had arrest ratios of over seven to one, according to the report. (Florida and Washington, D.C., were not included in the report.)

"Law enforcement continues to make hundreds of thousands of marijuana possession arrests every year, accounting for almost half of all drug arrests nationwide. Furthermore, although marijuana possession arrest rates were lower nationally in 2018 than in 2010, the initial decline of the first part of the decade appears to have stagnated, or even reversed," the report reads. "In 2018 — unchanged from 2010 — Black people were still nearly 4 times more likely than white people to get arrested for marijuana possession, despite similar usage rates."

Colorado's comparison of black and white arrests for marijuana possession was the most balanced of the 49 states on the list, but even that wasn't good: Just under twice as many blacks were arrested as whites between 2010 to 2018, or one black person to every .54 percent white person. (In a 2018 survey, the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division discovered that black people held roughly 2 percent of marijuana business ownership licenses in the state.)

Smoking weed while black is especially dangerous in West Virginia, Wyoming and South Dakota, the ACLU notes, where anywhere from 2.15 to 2.68 percent of black people overall are arrested for marijuana possession in comparison to white people, who face a 0.44 to 0.71 arrest rate in the same states.

"Although overall arrest rates and the extent of racial disparities in arrests varied across states, in every single state, Black people were more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people," the report reads.

States early to legalize marijuana — Colorado, Alaska, California, Oregon and Washington — were in the bottom ten for racial disparity, according to the ACLU. But Colorado, Alaska, Oregon and California actually saw initial rises in racial disparity after legalization, the data shows, though Colorado and Alaska have since seen drops to lower numbers than in pre-legalization years.

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Thomas Mitchell has written about all things cannabis for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate and general news along the way for publications such as the Arizona Republic, Inman and Fox Sports. He's currently the cannabis editor for
Contact: Thomas Mitchell