The Washington Post

Blacks in Seattle disproportionately fined for using pot in public

Blacks and the homeless received a disproportionate number of fines for using pot in public in Seattle, according to an official review of citations during the first six months of Washington’s legalized pot regime.

Although limited to just 82 tickets, the data show that officers cited blacks 37 percent of the time, even though just 8 percent of the city is black. Whites make up 70 percent of Seattle’s population yet received only 50 percent of the fines. More than 1 in 3 of those fined were homeless (i.e. they had no home in which to consume marijuana) or in transitional or low-income housing. The average age of a fine recipient was 33.4.

“While the sample size is small, it does indicate trends for race and homelessness we should continue to monitor,” city council member Nick Licata and City Attorney Pete Holmes said in a joint statement.

After voters approved marijuana for recreational use in Washington in 2012, the Seattle City Council regulated its public use, mandating in its ordinance that the Seattle Police Department monitor its own enforcement “for its race and social justice impacts.” Wednesday’s study is the result of that policy.

The authors of the report note that while the early data show disproportionate distribution of fines, it’s too soon to identify patterns.

“However, if such stories continue throughout the evaluation of this project, analysis, like this, will serve to guide the standard in just and effective public policy,” they wrote.


Niraj Chokshi is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post.

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