Racial Disparities Found in Cannabis-Related Arrests and School Suspensions



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Police in New Jersey are five times more likely to arrest a Black person for selling marijuana than a white person, according to a new study. 

Researchers also found that the Garden State’s schools suspended Black students for marijuana use at rate two times higher than other racial groups.

The New Jersey State Policy Lab at Rutgers University conducted the study. They examined marijuana usage related to health, education, and law enforcement factors. The lab wanted to establish a baseline for where things stand in New Jersey as the state prepares to begin legal recreational marijuana sales in the near future.

New Jersey is not alone in this problem. Nationwide studies have shown that police arrest Black people more frequently for marijuana-related charges than white people. In some cases, states have a much wider racial disparity in arrests than New Jersey.

In a news article from Rutgers University, Charles Menifield, dean of Rutgers University-Newark School of Public Affairs and Administration and the study’s principal investigator, says he hopes the state will refer back to the numbers after legal sales begin.

“This report is critical to New Jersey setting a model similar to other states in recognizing that all people in the state are not the same, and by legalizing cannabis, its impact on different communities is going to vary,” Menifield said. “This is literally a baseline report of what we should be looking at and where we are now.”

The researchers hope to see if other factors change after recreational cannabis is sold legally in the state.

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What the report found on New Jersey racial disparities

Some of the greatest racial disparities found in the study occurred in the legal system. In addition to the differences in arrests for selling cannabis, police also arrested Black people for cannabis possession four times higher than white people.

The study also looked into how the school system treats people of different races when enforcing policies regarding marijuana use. They found that between 2016 and 2018, schools suspended Black students at a rate more than two times higher than other groups. Due to suspension, they also missed more than twice as many school days as white students.

The study also found disparities in arrests when considering the age of those arrested. They found arrests for 18 to 20 years old “considerably higher” than other age groups, with a big increase in 2015. For those over 20, arrest rates stayed primarily flat other than a minor increase in 2016 and remained stable through 2019.

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Other findings in the report

Researchers found that cannabis arrests increased slightly or remained stable until 2015, when they rose dramatically. In all the years between 2010 and 2019, about 80 percent of all cannabis-related arrests involved possession.

The number of people admitted into a healthcare facility for marijuana use between 2015 and 2018 dropped for 18 to 20-year-olds but increased for 26 to 50. Among those over 50, admissions were low and stable for four years.

Overall, the report found that marijuana use remained lower in New Jersey than in other states among both men and women. 

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