Marijuana youth arrests increase despite use staying steady

Although Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, arrest rates for minority youth have skyrocketed.

Colorado gained international headlines when it legalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana for those aged 21 years and over. Since that time, the state's drug laws have continued to garner plenty of attention, especially as other states consider their own legalization efforts. However, one possibly unexpected result of Colorado's legalization of marijuana is that, according to NPR, more young people are now being arrested for marijuana-related offenses. The increased number of arrests for young people is especially alarming given that actual marijuana usage among young people has actually stayed steady in recent years.

Half of all marijuana arrests

While it is currently legal for those aged 21 and over to possess up to one ounce of marijuana, for those under 21 marijuana possession is still illegal. Perhaps not surprisingly, that situation means that youth now account for a much larger percentage of marijuana-related arrests in Colorado. According to the Boulder Weekly, whereas juvenile arrests only counted for a quarter of marijuana arrests in 2012, today they account for nearly half.

What is even more alarming is the racial disparity in those arrests. Marijuana-related arrests for white 10- to 17-year-olds fell by nearly 10 percent between 2012 and 2014. For black and Latino youths, however, the arrest rate has soared. For Latino youths over the same period arrest rates rose by 20 percent, while for black youths it went up by 50 percent.

Use remains steady

The increased arrest rate among youth and the racial disparity in that arrest rate would be bad enough if it weren't for the fact that marijuana use has held steady for young people since marijuana was legalized. Furthermore, marijuana use is roughly the same among white, black and Latino youth.

Critics say the arrest rates are alarming and show systemic racism continues to exist in how drug laws are enforced. Law enforcement agencies, however, claim that because most marijuana-related arrests come from complaints they receive from the public, they have little control over who gets charged for marijuana possession. Other critics contend that because an overwhelming majority of marijuana shops serve primarily white neighborhoods, that black and Latino communities are largely left having to deal with an illegal market.

Drug and youth crimes

While Colorado may have gained attention for relaxing its marijuana laws, as the above article shows, plenty of Coloradans have yet to feel the benefits. Being charged with a marijuana-related offense is still very much a possibility in Colorado, especially for young people. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help anybody who is facing such charges by informing them about their legal rights and what steps can be taken next.