Marijuana citations remain high, especially among minority groups

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KINGSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — Despite the decriminalization of the possession of small amounts of marijuana in 2013, police across Rhode Island continue to aggressively cite those in possession.

University of Rhode Island Professor Peter Phipps and the students of his Media and Law course compiled a study analyzing the number of citations issued since the law was passed.

“Before this survey by journalism students at URI, no one knew how police in Rhode Island were enforcing the 2013 marijuana possession law,” Phipps said. “The class found stark differences from community to community.”

The study found between 2013 and 2017, 5,000 citations were issued by police departments representing 85 percent of the state’s population. Of these, 39 percent were issued to African-Americans, despite the group only making up 8 percent of the total population.

Men were also issued citations six times more often than women.

The majority of citations came as a result of traffic stops.

Those who support the legalization of marijuana in the state say the study further offers evidence in their favor. Laws legalizing marijuana have been passed in Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maine, as well as six additional states across the country.

“Despite the fact that three out of five Rhode Islanders think it’s time to legalize and regulate marijuana, taxpayers are still contributing significant resources to enforce prohibition” said Matthew Schweich, Executive Director of the Marijuana Policy Project. “It makes no sense to spend money on a policy that punishes adults for using a substance that is far less harmful than alcohol.”