Data published recently in a journal contends police are less likely to conduct searches for marijuana during a routine traffic stop now in states where adult-use marijuana legalization has been approved.
Researchers from Stanford University and New York University reviewed traffic stops in Colorado and Washington state, two states that have legalized adult-use cannabis consumption. The researchers’ findings were published in the journal Nature: Human Behavior.
“After the legalization of marijuana, the number of searches fell substantially” in both states as compared to rates in 12 control states), researchers said in the story.
What’s more, “the proportion of stops that resulted in either a drug-related infraction or misdemeanor fell substantially in both states after marijuana was legalized.”
The findings, however, showed African-Americans and Hispanics were far more likely to have their vehicles searched by law enforcement during traffic stops than white men and women.
“We found that white drivers faced consistently higher search thresholds than minority drivers, both before and after marijuana legalization,” the researchers wrote. “The data thus suggest that, although overall search rates dropped in Washington and Colorado, black and Hispanic drivers still faced discrimination in search decisions.”
These findings hold true across the United States. Data shows both minority groups were twice as often to have their vehicles searched as white motorists, regardless of whether the state legalized adult-use cannabis.
“We find that legalization reduced both search rates and misdemeanor rates for drug offenses for white, black, and Hispanic drivers – though a gap in search thresholds persists.”
The findings published in the journal were similar to those reported in 2017 by The Marshall Project and the Center for Investigative Reporting. In that study, researchers said traffic-stop related searches declined for both whites and African-Americans, but African-Americans were two to three times more likely to be subjected to vehicle searches than either group.
NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said he was pleased to see the total number of traffic-stop searches decline in marijuana states, but “we must not overlook the reality that people of color continue to be policed in a racially disparate manner.
“While legalization is one tool that appears to lessen some of these disparities, it is not a panacea to solve the structural problems of systemic racism that persist in America.”