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When the Smoke Clears

This report was commissioned by Public Health Advocates and prepared by the University of California, Davis, Center for Regional Change (CRC). This report documents racial disparities in marijuana arrests in California from 1996-2016 based on an analysis of data from the California Department of Justice Criminal Offender Record Information. To enrich the report, CRC collaborated with Million Dollar Hoods (MDH) at the University of California, Los Angeles, to document disparities in marijuana-related arrests at the tract level in select law enforcement agencies in California.

Review full report here

Documentary video here

Report Highlights:

· The number of marijuana-related arrests and the type of charges has changed over time. However, racial disparities have persisted, such that Blacks are still nearly four times more likely to be arrested and charged with marijuana crime than whites.

· The highest arrest rates occur in marijuana-producing counties such as Mendocino, where the Black arrest rate in 2016 was almost 4,500 per 100,000 population. For the given year, the Black arrest rate is nearly ten times higher than the white arrest rate of 480 per 100,000 white population.

· The lowest arrest rate for Blacks, 21 marijuana-related arrests, occurred in Lassen County in 2013, and the highest arrest rate was 5,731 per 100,000 in Mendocino County in 2009.

· Large counties, like Alameda, Contra Costa, Fresno, Los Angeles, Merced, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Francisco, Solano, and Ventura, have seen some minor improvements in closing the black-white arrest gap. However, in some smaller counties with low numbers of Black residents, Black arrest rates have been increasing (e.g., Amador County, Butte County, Nevada County, San Benito County, Shasta County, Siskiyou County, Tuolomne County). The arrest rate analysis is limited to population data obtained from both decennial US census and American Community Survey estimates. Population estimates are more precise for larger counties/ cities than for smaller counties/ cities.

· Among the cities included in this analysis, cities’ of South Gate, Newport Beach, Torrance, Glendale, Long Beach, San Francisco, Richmond, Santa Monica, Baldwin Park, Whittier, Pasadena, Palo Alto, Mountain View and Downey had a relatively high average black arrest rate. They also have high disparities with a high average black-white ratio. For instance, the city of South Gate had a very high disparity, with a Black-white arrest rate ratio of almost 26 to 1. It also had a very high arrest rate for Blacks, at 422 per 100,000 people. Not all arrests by police are of city residents; however, lacking information about where the arrested persons live, this is our best estimate.

· In collaboration with MDH, this report documents booking/arrest rates at the tract level based on the home address of the individual for four LEAs: Kern County Sheriff’s Department, Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, Long Beach Police Department, and Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. Across the four LEAs, Sacramento and Kern have the highest arrest/booking rates at the tract level. In these LEAs, the majority of the tracts with the highest arrest/ booking rates are also considered severely disadvantaged communities. The California Department of Water Resources defines a ‘severely disadvantaged community’ as a community with an annual median household income that is less than 80% of the statewide MHI.

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