July 7, 2016

Marijuana use steady among young in Colorado, but police increase arrests, especially among blacks


Responses from 17,000 middle and high school students throughout [Colorado] indicate that, in keeping with national trends, the percentage of Colorado youth who report ever trying marijuana or using it within the past month has remained relatively steady. While a smaller percentage of kids now believe that people risk harming themselves (physically and in other ways) if they use marijuana regularly, perceptions of harms associated with more dangerous substances such as alcohol and cigarettes persist.

Drug violations represent 30% of the school-based incidents that get referred to law enforcement. Juvenile marijuana arrests have increased and at a notably disparate rate among young people of color. Despite similar rates of marijuana use, related arrests among White Colorado youth decreased by 8% from 2012-2014 at the same time as they increased by almost 60% among young African Americans.


DC Reade said...

No, no, no. These are not arrests of adults. This is crucial.

They're juvenile incidents. Law enforcement might be involved, but I seriously doubt that all of these referrals were elevated to the status of criminal offenses and convictions, even in the juvenile courts.

Also, focusing on a rise in percentages without providing the raw numbers is an easy way to mislead people. It's unlikely that black kids make up more than 10% of the student body, for instance (note: I have to guess, because specific data is not found in this report. So my speculation is extrapolated from US Census data on the general population.)

To provide a hypothetical example of how a "percentage rise" might actually be a lot less significant than it appears:

If a given school's student body is comprised of 1500 kids, with a 10% African American population: if 50 kids were caught with pot in 2012 and 5 of them were black, and in 2014 there was a "60% increase" in that number- that's another 3 kids.

Now, I don't know what the actual numbers are. But that isn't my fault. I'm simply pointing out that simply referring to a percentage rise- one that's based on, apparently, 3 years of data, including a whopping one year of the new legalized marijuana marijuana- makes for an awfully shoddy analysis.

And it's outright misleading to highlight "arrest numbers" for juveniles as if they carried the same significance as adult arrests (which are, in turn, not nearly as significant as convictions). Adult arrests for simple marijuana possession are no longer a factor in Colorado. For people of any ethnicity.

DC Reade said...

I've just accessed the report, issued by the Colorado Department of Public Safety (i.e., the state police.) It's entitled "Marijuana Legalization in Colorado: Early Findings." PDF document entitled " 2016-SB13-283-Rpt.pdf ".

I heartily encourage every reader to peruse the document carefully: in all of the statistics charts and graphs included in the report, almost the only number related to law enforcement interventions that indicates an increase is the juvenile arrest statistic found on page 63, which shows the percentage increase referenced in the Alternet article. All of the other numbers have dropped.

Moreover, here are the raw numbers that underpin the percentages:

the "8% drop" in arrests of white juveniles, numerically, was actually a 9% drop-
2012: 2198
2013: 2019
2014: 2016

the "60% increase" referenced in the Alternet article is actually a 52% increase; numerically-
2012: 205
2013: 260
2014: 320

So the core injustice that's the focus of the article is about a total of 120 more kids getting tagged with a juvenile court arrest (not a conviction, which is also worth noting.)

In the interest of more rounded detail- because data is often fairly useless or even misleading, if it's extracted from the wider context- there was also a percentage increase in juvenile arrests for Latino/"Hispanic" youth. Those were up 22%-
2012: 778
2013: 808
2014: 1006

That's an increase in raw numbers of 228 kids.

This has to be counterbalanced with the numbers of adult arrests related to marijuana in Colorado, which have plummeted across the board for all ethnicities.

Why am I going to all the trouble to point out all of this material?

Because stories like the Alternet article that was linked here are being exploited by Drug War Prohibitionists, who are referencing any data point they can find to undercut marijuana liberalization and legalization policies in the states. And skilled manipulators of opinion nowadays realize that any time they can use statistical data to depict their position within a frame of "social justice concern", they'll do it.

For example, this article, by an opponent of the current (2016) legalization initiative in Maine: http://smartapproaches.bangordailynews.com/2016/05/12/home/the-failures-of-marijuana-legalization-keep-piling-up/