For years, marijuana arrests have put minorities in jail at a disproportionately higher rate than whites. Now that recreational marijuana is legal in eight states, the majority of those who benefit most from the profitable industry are white.
Reporters Janie Har, from the Associated Press Race & Ethnicity team, and Bob Salsberg, from the Massachusetts statehouse bureau, set out to explore this dichotomy and how local governments are responding to it.
They found that in Oakland, California, where African-Americans made up 83 percent of cannabis arrests in 2007, officials approved a program that initially sets aside half of the city's marijuana licenses for low-income residents who have been convicted of a cannabis crime, or who live in a specified neighborhood where drug enforcement has been intense.
In Massachusetts, a 2016 ballot question that legalized recreational marijuana included language to encourage participation in the cannabis industry by people who were "disproportionately harmed" by enforcement of marijuana laws in the past.
Armed with this information, Har and Salsberg sought out real people whose lives were profoundly affected by a pot conviction, and found Andre Shavers. Shavers was sentenced to five years’ felony probation after being swept up in a 2007 raid on the house where he was living – and where a quarter ounce of marijuana was found. After that raid, Shavers couldn’t leave the state without permission and was subject to police searches at any time. One night, he walked to the corner store for maple syrup, and was brought back in a police car; Officers wanted to search his home. Today, Shavers runs a legal marijuana delivery service, an opportunity he views as a form of reparations for what he’d gone though. “I was kind of robbed of a lot for five years,” Shavers said.
The resulting story, which included a photo stack by San Francisco photographer Eric Risberg, video and social promotion, performed well on NewsWhip, with 329 source matches, 1,700 in Facebook engagement and 570 Tweets.
For their compelling explanation of the cannabis racial divide, Har and Salsberg receive this week’s $300 Best of the States award.