Thanks, Colorado: More Kids Going to Pot

A report from the Colorado Department of Public Safety shows that arrests of black and Hispanic youths between the ages of 10 and 17 for marijuana charges has increased sharply in the two years since the legalization of the mind-altering drug in the Centennial State.

Overall, arrests of minors for marijuana jumped 5 percent from 2012 to 2014, with minority youth accounting for the total increase. While whites saw an 8 percent decline in arrests, Hispanics saw a 29 percent jump in youth arrests — and black youth saw a staggering 58 percent increase.

It is easy to jump to conclusions about the numbers, as many pro-marijuana activists and lobbyists have done already. But the minority youth arrest increases are not because minorities are being targeted by law enforcement more aggressively than whites (although that argument conveniently plays well in urban areas, particularly in the tense aftermath of the Ferguson and Baltimore riots).

More logically — and more truthfully — minority marijuana-related arrests are higher because the same tactics that were used to promote alcohol and cigarettes so successfully are now being used by marijuana pro-legalization lobbies. It’s not racial bias on the part of law enforcement, but simple math and a marketing plan that history shows is very effective.

Start in the lower-income communities of color, and work your way out.

“It’s surprising that people haven’t stopped to think about how the tobacco and alcohol industries work,” Jeff Zinsmeister, executive vice president and director of government affairs for Smart Approaches to Marijuana, told LifeZette. SAM is an alliance of physicians, policy makers, recovery professionals, and others who want to see health and scientific evidence to guide any and all marijuana policies.

“The Denver Post did a January 2016 expose about this,” Zinsmeister said. “In low-income neighborhoods of color, there is one marijuana business for every 47 people. The legalization of marijuana has nothing whatsoever to do with the racial justice angle, despite all the rhetoric,” he continued. “At the end of the day, they are two totally separate issues. If the correlation were true, they would be much more focused on it than they are.”

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Indeed, legalization of a substance is never the way to end racial disparities in arrests for that substance.

Dr. Kevin Sabet, the president of SAM, said in a press release, “The data is in, and it shows once again legalization advocates are only paying lip service to racial justice questions to advance the agenda of the marijuana industry. They sold legalization to the voters as a solution to racial injustice, but more youth of color are now being arrested, not fewer.”

Tustin Amole, director of communications for Cherry Creek Schools in Araphoe County, Colorado, said the report’s findings accurately mirror their schools’ experience with marijuana arrests of minorities.

Amole said arrests are made on a case-by-case basis and circumstances are taken into account in each case. But she told Buzzfeed, “All I can say is that while it may seem disproportionate, those are the students we’re catching with the drugs.”

The second problem with making an addictive substance legal is the layering-on of plain old human nature. The more common something is, the more it becomes abused by a population.

“When you make something legal, it starts to be advertised and promoted,” said Zinsmeister. “Not a surprise, then, that more minors are being arrested on marijuana violations post-legalization. If you look at the convictions for alcohol compared to pot right now, there’s your roadmap. Alcohol is widely accepted in society and has far greater arrests by minors.”

A 10th grader in Boston, Massachusetts, who attends an inner-city public high school, said, “If Massachusetts legalizes pot, a lot more kids will have it on them, I guarantee. Legalization is sort of the nod from authority that a little is okay … so some will, of course, take that and run with it. That’s the truth.”

Marijuana is a highly addictive, mind-altering substance that should not be legalized but instead should be banned by any country that values its youth and its citizens.

"Evidence is clear and mounting that marijuana use has very negative outcomes for kids," said Zinsmeister. "It's associated with a wide variety of mental health issues, including depression. When kids start very young, it is associated with lower IQs, as well as permanent mental health problems. We care about all America's youth — of every color. People can debate marijuana, but it's irresponsible to say it's harmless."

In New York City, meanwhile, Police Commissioner William Bratton said the majority of the Big Apple's drug-related violence is related to marijuana. Two days ago he criticized those states that have legalized the drug.

"Here in New York, the violence we see associated with drugs, the vast majority of it, is around the [sale] of marijuana," Bratton said over the weekend during a radio show appearance. "I have to scratch my head as we are seeing many states wanting to legalize marijuana, and more liberalizations of policies," he added.