Equity in Marijuana Policies: A Comparative Study of two U.S. States using Critical Race Theory.

Thursday, 24 November, 2022 - 16:50 to 18:20
Insights zone 2 (I2)


Background: The United States has <5% of the world’s population yet houses 25% of the incarcerated population, the majority serving for drug-related crimes. Historically, U.S. drug policies have disproportionately impacted racial minorities. African Americans and Latin Americans are more likely to serve drug-related prison sentences than European Americans. While studies on U.S. drug policies are robust, we know less regarding how legal marijuana policies perpetuate racial/ethnic disparities. This study attempts to address this gap by comparing marijuana policies in Washington state and Colorado (first two U.S. states to legalize marijuana) and examining implications on racial/ethnic minorities through a critical race theory (CRT) lens.

Methods: We analyzed publicly available state government reports using exploratory content analysis. We examined policy language, implementation practices (taxes, retail license criteria), and aftereffects on racial minorities. CRT tenets of 'interest convergence' and 'intersectionality' framed our coding and analysis of emerging themes.

Results: Results show differences in taxation and revenue, engagement barriers in the marijuana industry, and disparities in dispensary density. Despite higher density of marijuana businesses in minority communities, licensing criteria (e.g., criminal background checks, federal marijuana prohibition) perpetuate inequities in minority-owned marijuana dispensaries. Formerly incarcerated business applicants often cannot apply for a bank loan and must rely on social and financial capital, which racial minorities often lack. High taxation practices in Washington state feed the illicit market and perpetuate criminalization of unsanctioned marijuana distribution. In Colorado, marijuana-related arrest rates increased with racial minority youth.

Conclusion: Our findings underscore the promising role of U.S. drug policies in promoting racial equity. The disproportionate rates of minority-owned marijuana businesses highlight implications of drug policies in perpetuating the racial wealth gap. Policy and research implications regarding how marijuana policies could repair the historical harms of drug policies on minoritized populations will be discussed.


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24 5A 1650 Gaby Mohr_v1.1.pdf294.87 KBDownload



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