Urbana, IL, Witnesses Significant Drop in Cannabis-Related Arrests Following Legalization, Blacks Still Targeted More
In the wake of cannabis legalization, Urbana, Illinois, has seen a substantial decline in cannabis-related arrests over the past three years.
Since January 2020, in the wake of cannabis legalization, Urbana, Illinois, has seen a substantial decline in cannabis-related arrests over the past three years, a trend that experts and law enforcement officials expected but may have surpassed initial expectations, according to CU-Citizen Access.
Urbana maintains a public database meticulously logging all cannabis-related arrests within the city, covering offenses like possession over the limit, delivery, and manufacturing. The comprehensive data spans arrests, citations, and summons, categorized by arrest type and listed outcomes.
CU-CitizenAccess, a local news outlet, meticulously reviewed arrest data for 14 distinct cannabis-related crimes, ranging from 1988 to February of this year. The numbers reveal a continuous decline in cannabis-related arrests even before legalization, with 203 arrests in 2013 plummeting to a mere 34 in 2020 when cannabis became legal.
The downward trajectory persisted through 2022, reaching a strikingly low number of only 12 arrests. Notably, only one arrest was recorded in the data available until February.
Urbana Interim Police Chief Richard Surles affirmed that the decrease in arrests aligns with law enforcement’s shift in focus toward specific aspects of cannabis use, emphasizing charges related to large-scale possession and other offenses linked to cannabis use.
Surles stated in an email, “Cannabis certainly falls into the category of drugs that would trigger a DUI arrest,” highlighting the evolving legal landscape around driving under the influence of drugs.
Peter Contos, deputy director of the Cannabis Equity Illinois Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy group, noted that traffic stops not only lead to cannabis charges but also other violations, such as gun-related offenses.
The data, however, comes with its set of challenges, with discrepancies, typos, and incomplete information. The dataset, last updated in February this year, remains incomplete due to a transition to a new system.
The data reveals a persistent disparity in cannabis possession arrests, with men consistently arrested more frequently than women, even post-legalization. After legalization, the data indicates 54 men to 7 women being arrested for cannabis-related charges.
Examining the racial breakdown, Black individuals are disproportionately arrested, constituting 77% of arrests since legalization. Out of 61 arrests in Urbana over the past three years, 47 were Black,10 were white, and four were Hispanic.
Data further underscores that young Black men between the ages of 17 and 30 remain the primary demographic for cannabis-related arrests, making up about 52% of all arrested individuals since legalization in 2020.
Despite the overall decline in arrests, cannabis advocacy groups and criminal justice-based advocacy groups have been actively involved in expunging or sealing records related to past cannabis offenses. Peter Contos emphasized that even if records are expunged, the official data might still retain a record of the arrest.
Contos explained that individuals seeking expungement face a comprehensive process involving local and state police forces, the court system, and FBI records. Although the expungement process is rigorous, there are no limitations for people seeking to clear their records in Illinois. Despite these efforts, the data retains records but has limited identifying information.
As Urbana navigates the evolving landscape of cannabis legalization, questions about the social impact, law enforcement priorities, and equity in the enforcement of cannabis-related laws continue to be at the forefront of public discourse.