Blacks Fined Disproportionately for Publicly Smoking Pot in Seattle

According to a report, racial injustice ensues even when it comes to treatment of those who smoke legalized weed.

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A medical-marijuana patient smokes marijuana during a protest outside the state of California building on July 18, 2011, in San Francisco.  

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One would think that Seattle, as a city that’s at the forefront of the marijuana revolution, would be more progressive when it comes to racial equality. The numbers beg to differ.

Based on their representation in the population, African Americans received a disproportionate number of fines for smoking cannabis in public compared with whites and Asians in Seattle, according to an official review, the Washington Post reported. During the first half of 2014—which marked the first six months of legalized weed in the state of Washington—blacks received 37 percent of the 82 tickets officials cited for public pot use in Seattle.

That percentage is more than four times the 8 percent of Seattle’s population that’s black. Similarly, when it comes to using pot in public, those who are homeless or in low-income or transitional housing faced disproportionate fines in Seattle. More than 1 in 3 of those fined within the past six months were members of those groups.

The authors of the report note that it’s too soon to identify patterns in the numbers, though they admit that they are clearly disproportionate. In the report, the authors wrote, “However, if such stories continue throughout the evaluation of this project, analysis, like this, will serve to guide the standard in just and effective public policy.”

In 2012 the Seattle City Council regulated marijuana’s public use when Washington voters overall approved it for recreational use. The council mandated that the Seattle Police Department monitor its enforcement “for its racial and social justice impacts,” according to the Washington Post.

City Councilman Nick Licata and City Attorney Pete Holmes commented on the numbers in a joint statement, saying, “While the sample size is small, it does indicate trends for race and homelessness we should continue to monitor.”

Read more at the Washington Post.

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