Canada: Black People Overrepresented in Marijuana Arrests Prior to Legalization

Toronto, Canada: Prior to legalization, those arrested for minor marijuana possession offenses in Canada were primarily Black people or Indigenous people, according to data published in the International Journal of Drug Policy.

A pair of researchers affiliated with the University of Toronto examined racial differences in cannabis arrests in 2015 across five major Canadian cities (Calgary, Halifax, Ottawa, Regina and Vancouver) in five Canadian provinces.

In all five of the cities examined, Black people were overrepresented amongst those arrested for the low-level possession (up to 30 grams) of cannabis. In four of the five cities examined, Indigenous people were also overrepresented.

The Canadian government legalized the production, possession, and sale of cannabis in 2018.

Investigators reported: “Examining the issue of racial disparities in cannabis arrests using data from police agencies in five Canadian cities, we found that Black Canadian and Indigenous people are more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than White people. This pattern was true in all five cities except Halifax, where only Black people were over-represented in arrests. … These racial disparities in arrests exist despite limited evidence of relatively similar rates of self-reported cannabis use across racial groups in the Canadian context.”

Authors concluded: “In order to develop a better understanding of the impact that Canada’s war on drugs has had on Canada’s diverse populations, and to avoid the proliferation of racial disparities in drug arrests, further research in this area is warranted.”

Both nationwide and citywide data compiled in the United States reports similar racial disparities among those arrested for marijuana possession offenses.

Full text of the study, “Race, cannabis, and the Canadian war on drugs: An examination of cannabis arrest data by race in five cities,” appears in the International Journal of Drug Policy. Additional information is available in the NORML fact sheet, “Racial Disparity in Marijuana Arrests.”