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Racial disparity in possession charges

Despite the fact that simple possession of marijuana was decriminalized in California in 2011, policing for the offense is racially disparate, according to a recent report. The offense was dropped from a misdemeanor-level offense to a civil infraction carrying a fine of $100.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union and the Drug Policy Alliance, police officers in the state charge black people with the infraction almost four times as often as they do white people. The two organizations also found that Hispanic people are charged approximately 1.5 times as frequently as white people. The organizations report that despite the disproportionate number of minorities who are charged, the rates of use do not differ significantly among the races.

The ACLU and the Drug Policy Alliance also found that the infractions end up costing significantly more than $100 with the additional fees and court costs that are added to them. They pointed out that many of the people who are charged are under the age of 29 and living in poorer areas, making it very difficult for them to afford to pay the fines assessed against them.

In November, voters in California will have the option to vote for the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. If passed, this law would legalize possession of marijuana for adults in the state. It would also retroactively negate penalties for the offense, alleviating the burden for many people. Racial profiling by law enforcement officers is unconstitutional, but it unfortunately still frequently happens. People who are charged with drug offenses and who believe the arresting officer profiled them based on their race may want to consult with criminal defense attorneys about their cases. An attorney may be able to analyze the stop and search of his or her client in order to determine if profiling appears to have occurred.

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