In 2016, Massachusetts voters legalized recreational marijuana. In their messaging, the Yes on 4 campaign highlighted racial disparities in marijuana policing as a core reason the state’s voters should approve the legalization ballot initiative.

Data for Justice helped illustrate how, even in a progressive city like Boston—and even after marijuana had been decriminalized for years—marijuana policing disproportionately focused on communities of color.

Former ACLU of Massachusetts Technology Fellow Paola Villarreal mapped Boston Police Department incident report data, revealing that in the days before the 2016 election, most marijuana policing in the City of Boston occurred in Black and brown neighborhoods like Roxbury, Mattapan, and Dorchester. Villarreal built an interactive storytelling tool using this data, combined with census information showing the racial makeup of neighborhoods, to illustrate that the problem of racial disparities in marijuana policing constituted a live problem in the days before voters cast their polls.

Weeks later, Massachusetts voters approved recreational marijuana legalization.