Marijuana Use By Race [Exploring the Facts]

Who uses the most weed? We take a look at the stats.

It’s no secret that marijuana is rapidly becoming more popular than ever. At the time of writing, medical cannabis is legal in 33 states plus DC, and a third of these states also allow for recreational use.

It is hard to believe that, just a few decades ago, pot-smokers around the world were forced to keep their habits a closely-guarded secret. It is now becoming a far more normalized and socially acceptable practice.

Despite this, people are still being arrested for crimes such as weed possession at an alarming rate. This problem is especially prevalent in African-American communities, as Blacks continue to be arrested far more often than Whites.

Is this a true reflection of differences in marijuana use between races, or simply evidence of police prejudice and racism in the extreme? Let’s take a look at the facts.

Cannabis Use by Race

It is difficult to find up-to-date figures regarding marijuana use by race. However, stats from 2001-2014 show that both Blacks and Whites have increased their consumption over the years. Back in 2001, just under 10% of people of both races admitted to using weed, with Whites taking the lead by a hair’s breadth.

Usage for both groups increased slowly but surely over the next few years. By 2014, Blacks had taken the lead, with 16% admitting to using cannabis in the previous year. Whites were not far behind, though, with 14% admitting to partaking in the same period.

These figures are supported by a study of 10th and 12th graders between 2006 and 2015. The study, which was published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence in 2017, found that Black, White, Hispanic, and Multiracial students used cannabis at a fairly similar rate. The only significantly different group was Asians, who admitted using weed at a far lower rate than their peers.

A similar study from 2015 had comparable findings. It suggests that while Asians are the least likely to use marijuana, Native Americans and Alaskan Natives have the highest usage rates. The study also found that, although historically males have been more likely to use weed than females, the gap is closing over time.

So, it seems that except for Asians, there is not much difference in cannabis use by race. However, when it comes to weed-related arrests, it is a very different story!

Cannabis Arrests by Race

We now know that Blacks and Whites use cannabis at a similar rate, along with Hispanics and people of mixed heritage. However, Blacks are considerably more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than Whites; 3.73 times more likely, to be precise!

A report named The War on Marijuana in Black and White details the full extent of this problem. In 2010, the national arrest rate for possession was 192 per 100,000 for Whites and 716 per 100,000 for Blacks.

Worse still, it seems this disparity has only increased over time. In 2001, the arrest rate for Blacks was just 537 per 100,000, while the figure for Whites, on the other hand, has remained relatively unchanged.

The issue is also worse in some states than others. In the District of Columbia, for example, 91% of arrests for weed possession in 2010 targeted Blacks. Other states with a significant racial disparity in arrest rates include the following:

StateBlack ArrestsWhite ArrestsTimes Blacks More Likely to be Arrested

Source: American Civil Liberties Union (2013) The War on Marijuana in Black and White

Even in Oregon, the state with the lowest disparity between races, 563 Blacks were arrested for marijuana possession compared with 271 Whites. This difference means that Blacks are still more than twice as likely to be arrested for marijuana-related crimes than Whites.

These figures seem crazy when you consider that both races have been shown to use cannabis at a very similar rate. It is a sad sign that the world is not yet as equal as we might think.

Ending Marijuana Racism

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time the world of weed has been plagued by racism and prejudice. In the 1930s, marijuana prohibition was fuelled by ignorance and xenophobia, this time against the Mexicans.

Following the Mexican Revolution, immigration to the US increased dramatically. This move was unpopular with many Americans at the time. And since the Mexicans were known for their love of weed, a negative stereotype was born.

This prejudice was further enforced by Harry Anslinger, a bureaucrat of the time and staunch opponent of cannabis use. Anslinger is the man behind the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, which eventually led to the prohibition of the herb. Anslinger has been quoted as saying:

“There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers.”

As if this sweeping generalization weren’t bad enough, Anslinger follows up with a string of offensive comments about how cannabis smokers use their “Satanic” jazz and swing music to seduce White women, who of course, are powerless to make up their own minds!

Nowadays, it is unthinkable that a public figure could come out with such blatantly racist, ill-informed nonsense (although, recently, some have come fairly close). However, these are the kind of opinions that helped to fuel the hatred and fear of cannabis. Using this to their advantage, Anslinger and friends managed to outlaw an herb which until then had been part of everyday life for centuries.

Fortunately, these days we know much better. Research into the potential benefits of cannabis has led to a newfound respect for the plant. The Hemp Farming Act of 2018 helped to reintroduce the cultivation of hemp plants containing less than 0.3% THC and boost the popularity of its extracts such as CBD. Now more and more states are rapidly jumping onto the legalization bandwagon, it seems it must surely be a matter of time before federal prohibition ends.

Certain states are also now making provisions for people to get marijuana-related crimes expunged from their records. This is good news for those arrested for misdemeanors such as possession, no matter the color of their skin. However, it could be especially crucial for Blacks since they are detained at such a disproportionate rate.

Although it is clear that we have a long way to go to eradicate cannabis racism completely, it seems we are at least heading in the right direction.

Marijuana Use by Race: Final Thoughts

Research has shown that Black, White, Hispanic, and Multiracial people all use weed at a similar rate. However, there is a vast disparity in arrests for cannabis possession between Blacks and Whites.

It is a sad fact that marijuana has been intertwined with racism throughout modern history. Since the 1930s, non-White users of the herb have been the targets of prejudice and discrimination. Things are looking up slightly, but we still have a long way to go before all potheads are treated with equality.

In the meantime, though, all we can really do is wait and hope. While many of us dream of living in a society where skin color is irrelevant, there are still plenty of people who disagree!

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