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Racial divide in criminal charges for marijuana use in Toronto

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Toronto, Ontario, is often seen as a multicultural city where multiple races enjoy opportunity and equality. However, a Toronto Star analysis recently showed that Black people in the city are disproportionately arrested for small amounts of marijuana possession. Data also shows that Black people in Toronto are more likely to be stopped by police on the street than White people. This can lead to criminal charges with long-term consequences.

The analysis compares 10 years worth of data from official police records. Although marijuana use is consistent across racial lines in the area, arrests and police patrolling focuses on Black offenders. From 2003 to 2013, Toronto police noted the skin colour of 11,299 people they arrested with no prior convictions for possessing up to 30 grams of marijuana. According to the data, 25.2% of those arrested were Black, even though they only made up 8.4% of the population.

Police responded by saying that there is more to the story than the data shows. They are not validating the claims made by the press that the data points to racial bias. Courts do not obtain racial data, so it is difficult to tell how these arrests end and if Black and White people are charged differently.

Criminal charges related to drug possession and trafficking can have serious long-term consequences. It is important to understand the reasons for a charge, the nature of the community law enforcement, and the defenses available should a charge be carried through to court. A criminal lawyer can help explain options and defend any cases if such a situation should occur.

Source: vice.ca, “Toronto cops are disproportionately charging black people for marijuana possession“, Rachel Browne, July 6, 2017

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