Objectives. To evaluate the effects of California Proposition 47, which reclassified felony drug offenses to misdemeanors in 2014, on racial/ethnic disparities in drug arrests.

Methods. Using data on all drug arrests made in California from 2011 to 2016, we compared racial/ethnic disparities in drug arrests between Whites, Blacks, and Latinos, immediately and 1 year after policy changes, controlling for secular and seasonal trends.

Results. In the month following passage, absolute Black–White disparities in monthly felony drug arrests decreased from 81 to 44 per 100 000 and continued to decrease over time. There was an immediate increase of 27% in the relative disparity, however, because a higher proportion of felony offense types among Whites was reclassified. Total drug arrest rates also declined, suggesting drug law enforcement was deprioritized. During the first year after enactment, felony drug arrests fell by an estimated 51 985 among Whites, 15 028 among Blacks, and 50 113 among Latinos.

Conclusions. Reducing criminal penalties for drug possession can reduce racial/ethnic disparities in criminal justice exposure and has implications for improving health inequalities linked to social determinants of health.

More than 7 million persons in the United States had an illicit substance use disorder in 2014,1 and substance-related disorders, excluding alcohol, were the primary diagnosis in more than 700 000 emergency department visits that year.2 The United States has taken an increasingly punitive approach to substance use in recent decades, which has disproportionately affected people of color. Twenty years after the war on drugs was launched in 1986, arrests for drug possession had grown by 150%, and Black–White disparities in this type of arrest widened from 3:1 to 5:1.3 Of the 1.5 million jail and prison inmates with substance use disorders, just 11% have received any type of treatment since admission, and evidence-based treatment options are rarer still.4

In our study setting of California, 127 000 felony drug charges were filed in 2014, 14% of which were imposed on Blacks—more than twice their representation in the population.5 As a point of comparison for substance use, Blacks constituted 8% of drug overdoses in the state in 2013.6 The collateral consequences of felony drug convictions are severe; impacts on immigration status and access to jobs, health benefits, housing, and financial support for higher education may exacerbate racial/ethnic disparities in health and social outcomes.7 Although ethnographic research has found that incarceration can be a turning point for some fathers who access supportive services and alter their life course to reestablish familial bonds,8,9 the preponderance of evidence points to harms to health, earnings, family ties and resources, and the mental health of partners and children left behind.10

Many states are beginning to reverse laws and policies that contribute to high incarceration rates by reducing criminal penalties for drug possession. Whereas many drug law reforms have focused on marijuana, California passed Proposition 47: the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act in 2014 (California Assembly Bill 2765), which made more expansive changes by reducing possession of narcotics (Health and Safety 11350), possession of a controlled substance (Health and Safety 11377), possession of concentrated cannabis (Health and Safety 11357[a]), and several property offenses to misdemeanors. Before Proposition 47 (Prop 47), these offenses were classified as felonies—with prosecutorial discretion to reduce charges to misdemeanors, which carry maximum sentences of 1 year in jail. After the adoption of Prop 47, these offenses were reclassified as misdemeanors but can still be charged as felonies in cases with prior convictions for serious, violent crimes. The aim of Prop 47 was to focus spending on serious offenses in a state with overcrowded prisons, invest the savings to support mental health and substance use disorder treatment and kindergarten through 12th grade education, and increase alternatives to incarceration for low-level crimes.

How were racial/ethnic disparities affected by the reversal of punitive drug laws? Because Prop 47 reduced many drug felonies to misdemeanors, we would expect a reduction in felony drug arrests, which disproportionately affect people of color. Yet, offenses reclassified to misdemeanors could be more subject to racially/ethnically disparate policing, because there is greater discretion to choose to arrest or issue a warning.11 Following Prop 47, arrests and incarcerated populations declined in California, but effects by race/ethnicity remained unexamined.12–16 We investigated effects on racial/ethnic disparities in drug arrests for felonies, misdemeanors, and overall. We also assessed whether there was a change across race/ethnicity in the rates of felony drug offenses that were not reclassified by Prop 47.

Although it remains a controversial topic in political discussions, other states are reversing punitive drug laws. At the time of writing, a bill similar to Prop 47 cleared the legislature in Oregon with the explicit hope of reducing racial/ethnic disparities in the criminal justice system.17 More than ever, evidence is needed to inform criminal justice reforms and identify effective strategies to improve racial/ethnic equity in issues of public health significance.

Data came from the California Department of Justice’s Monthly Arrests and Citations Register (“the register”), and annual county-level population estimates (for the denominator in rate calculations) were from the American Community Survey. The analytic period included the 3 years before and the 2 years after the passage of Prop 47 on November 4, 2014.

Measures
Outcome: arrests.

We obtained data on drug arrests for those aged 15 to 64 years from the register for November 5, 2011, to November 4, 2016, and aggregated them by month, county, and offense classification. Classification is made at the time of arrest, although the prosecutor has ultimate authority over what charges, if any, will be filed. We used race-specific county populations aged 15 to 64 years as offsets in the models to obtain rates.

Exposure: Proposition 47: The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act.

Prop 47 passed on November 4, 2014, and was effective immediately. We defined prepolicy conditions as the period from November 5, 2011, until November 4, 2014. We considered arrests from November 5, 2014, to November 4, 2016, as occurring under policy conditions.

Race/ethnicity.

Racial/ethnic groups included in the analysis were White, Black, and Latino because of concern about elevated arrest rates among Blacks and Latinos compared with Whites and because these 3 groups constitute 95% of drug arrests in the state. Population denominator data from the American Community Survey were exclusively self-reported and included a mixed race option. Arrests (numerator) data may include self-report or officer’s determination and did not contain a mixed race option. We adjusted population denominators to align with arrests by assuming individuals of 2 races were classified in arrests approximately half the time in 1 of their 2 racial/ethnic categories. We conducted a sensitivity analysis that assumed all multiracial individuals were classified as “other” in arrests data and used single race population denominators; results were nearly identical.

Statistical Analysis

We took a time series approach similar to those taken by other studies of policy impacts in the public health literature.18–22 We modeled monthly, county-level drug arrest rates by race/ethnicity with cluster robust SEs using a Poisson specification and county fixed effects. Results can be interpreted as average within-county changes. We modeled total drug arrests, misdemeanor drug arrests, felony drug arrests, Prop 47–affected arrests, and felony drug arrests unaffected by Prop 47 separately. Calendar month dummies controlled for seasonal trends, and a continuous linear term for months (1–60) controlled for secular trends. Secular trends were nonlinear for felony drug arrests unaffected by Prop 47, so this model included a cubic spline constructed of piecewise third-order polynomials with 3 prepolicy knots at 9, 18, and 27 months.

We used dummy variables for postpolicy months to model the incremental change beyond secular and seasonal trends. We interacted dummies with race/ethnicity to assess change in disparities. We also interacted the secular trend term with race/ethnicity so each group could differ in its preexisting time trend.

We calculated change in both absolute and relative differences across race/ethnicity, because relative differences can increase even as absolute differences narrow. Relative differences depend on the rate in the reference group (here, Whites); as rates in the reference group decline, a shrinking absolute difference may correspond to a widening relative difference.

To calculate the difference in expected versus observed counts, we subtracted model-predicted counts from actual arrests during the corresponding period. We obtained confidence intervals (CIs) by bootstrapping, using 1000 replications. We conducted all analyses using Stata version 14 (StataCorp LP, College Station, TX).

A total of 1 001 502 drug arrests were made among Blacks, Whites, and Latinos aged 15 to 64 years in California’s 58 counties during the 5-year study period. The 3 racial/ethnic groups represented 95% of drug arrests in the state. County populations aged 15 to 64 years, used to calculate arrest rates, ranged from 727 to 7 036 067 (interquartile range: 27 677–462 581).

We examined first the reductions in felony drug arrests, which carry the potential for felony convictions and associated collateral consequences. Arrests for the same offenses may still occur, however, under a misdemeanor classification. Prop 47 explicitly aimed to prioritize more serious, violent offenses, so a reduction in all drug arrests could occur, regardless of classification. Thus, we next measured the reduction in drug arrests overall, which reflects the total effect of Prop 47 on exposure to the criminal justice system, after accounting for felony declines, misdemeanor replacement, and changes in enforcement priorities. Last, we looked into the change in all drug arrests to examine the extent to which reductions were related to offenses affected by Prop 47 (i.e., newly misdemeanor) versus offenses unaffected by Prop 47 (i.e., retained felony classification).

Felony Drug Arrests

Felony drug arrest rates dropped immediately and precipitously for all racial/ethnic groups during the first month and continued to decrease over time (Figure 1).

In the year before Prop 47 was passed, the proportion of drug arrests that were felonies was highest for Blacks (71% vs 61% and 65% among Whites and Latinos, respectively), suggesting that Blacks would have the most to gain from reclassification of drug felonies to misdemeanors. However, Prop 47 did not reclassify all felony drug offenses, only drug possession. In the year before Prop 47 was passed, the proportion of felony drug arrests for offenses that would be reclassified was 73% among Blacks versus 86% among Whites and 83% among Latinos. Thus, relative to Whites and Latinos, we would expect a smaller percentage decline in felony drug arrests of Blacks resulting from Prop 47.

Consistent with these predictions, the models adjusted for secular and seasonal trends showed a significant immediate decline in monthly felony drug arrest rates of 81 (95% CI = −96, −66) per 100 000 among Blacks compared with declines of 44 among both Whites (95% CI = −48, −40) and Latinos (95% CI = −54, −33; Table 1). As a result, the absolute disparity in Black–White felony arrest rates declined by 37 (95% CI = −52, −22) per 100 000 in the first month from a difference of 81 per 100 000 in the month before passage (95% CI = 59, 103) and continued to decrease over time. Felony drug arrest rates among Whites and Latinos were nearly equivalent in the month before passage (1 per 100 000 higher among Latinos), and no difference was evident by 12 months after passage.

Table

TABLE 1— Prop 47 Effects on Felony, Misdemeanor, and Total Monthly Drug Arrest Rates per 100 000 in All 58 Counties: California, 2011–2016

TABLE 1— Prop 47 Effects on Felony, Misdemeanor, and Total Monthly Drug Arrest Rates per 100 000 in All 58 Counties: California, 2011–2016

Arrest TypePre–Post RD (95% CI)Racial/Ethnic Difference in Pre–Post RD (95% CI)Pre–Post RR (95% CI)Racial/Ethnic Difference in Pre–Post RR (95% CI)
Felony drug arrests
Immediate effect
 White−44 (−48, −40)Ref0.31 (0.28, 0.35)1 (Ref)
 Black−81 (−96, −66)−37 (–52, −22)0.40 (0.35, 0.44)1.27 (1.12, 1.42)
 Latino−44 (−54, −33)0 (–10, 10)0.31 (0.23, 0.39)0.98 (0.79, 1.18)
1 y after policy
 White−59 (−64, −54)Ref0.23 (0.19, 0.27)1 (Ref)
 Black−100 (−121, −80)−41 (–61, −22)0.35 (0.29, 0.41)1.53 (1.21, 1.85)
 Latino−55 (−65, −46)3 (−7, 14)0.26 (0.21, 0.31)1.14 (0.96, 1.32)
Total drug arrests
Immediate effect
 White−28 (−34, −22)Ref0.71 (0.67 0.75)1 (Ref)
 Black−57 (−72, −42)−29 (–44, −13)0.70 (0.65, 0.76)0.99 (0.91, 1.07)
 Latino−29 (−39, −18)−1 (−11, 10)0.70 (0.62, 0.78)0.98 (0.87, 1.08)
1 y after policy
 White−19 (–29, −9)Ref0.83 (0.76, 0.91)1 (Ref)
 Black−43 (−65, −22)−24 (−44, −3)0.80 (0.72, 0.89)0.97 (0.86, 1.07)
 Latino−24 (−36, −12)−5 (−16, 6)0.78 (0.69, 0.87)0.94 (0.85, 1.02)
Misdemeanor drug arrests
Immediate effect
 White13 (8, 19)Ref1.39 (1.18, 1.59)1 (Ref)
 Black27 (16, 37)13 (7, 20)1.48 (1.22, 1.75)1.07 (0.96, 1.18)
 Latino14 (8, 21)1 (−3, 4)1.45 (1.22, 1.68)1.05 (0.97, 1.13)
1 y after policy
 White35 (28, 42)Ref1.87 (1.59, 2.15)1 (Ref)
 Black61 (41, 82)26 (9, 43)1.97 (1.45, 2.48)1.05 (0.84, 1.26)
 Latino29 (21, 38)−6 (−12, 0.2)1.79 (1.52, 2.07)0.96 (0.89, 1.03)
Drug arrests reclassified by Prop 47
Immediate effect
 White−26 (−30, −23)Ref0.47 (0.44, 0.51)1 (Ref)
 Black−47 (−54, −40)−21 (−28, −13)0.48 (0.43, 0.53)1.01 (0.91, 1.11)
 Latino−26 (−32, −20)0 (−7, 7)0.45 (0.38, 0.52)0.96 (0.83, 1.08)
1 y after policy
 White−28 (−33, −22)Ref0.54 (0.48, 0.60)1 (Ref)
 Black−53 (−72, −34)−26 (−42, −9)0.49 (0.41, 0.58)0.91 (0.79, 1.03)
 Latino−28 (−33, −23)−1 (−8, 7)0.51 (0.46, 0.57)0.95 (0.84, 1.05)
Felony drug arrests unaffected by Prop 47
Immediate effect
 White0 (−1, 1)Ref0.98 (0.88, 1.07)1 (Ref)
 Black−8 (−20, 3)−8 (−20, 4)0.83 (0.65, 1.02)0.85 (0.63, 1.07)
 Latino−1 (−3, 0.2)−1 (−3, 1)0.91 (0.82, 1.01)0.93 (0.80, 1.07)
1 y after policy
 White0 (−2, 1)Ref0.97 (0.85, 1.08)1 (Ref)
 Black−6 (−23, 11)−6 (−22, 11)0.89 (0.63, 1.16)0.93 (0.68, 1.17)
 Latino−1 (−3, 2)0 (−2, 2)0.95 (0.83, 1.08)0.99 (0.86, 1.11)

Note. CI = confidence interval; Prop 47 = Proposition 47; RD = rate difference; RR = rate ratio.

Although Blacks had the largest decline in absolute felony drug arrest rates, they had the least proportional decline, likely because they had lower proportions of felony drug offenses that were reclassified to misdemeanors by Prop 47. In the first month, felony drug arrests among Blacks declined by 60% (RR = 0.40; 95% CI = 0.35, 0.44) compared with 69% among Whites (RR = 0.31; 95% CI = 0.28, 0.35) and Latinos (RR = 0.31; 95% CI = 0.23, 0.39). With a larger percentage decline among Whites, the relative Black–White disparity increased by 27% (RR = 1.27; 95% CI = 1.12, 1.42). Although proportional declines in felonies continued to grow over time for all racial/ethnic groups, differences in declines across groups grew as well. By 12 months after passage, felony rates among Blacks were 3.09 times higher than were those of Whites (95% CI = 2.27, 3.90) compared with 2.16 times higher in the month before the policy was in force (95% CI = 1.81, 2.51).

The difference in the number of felony arrests made and the number expected on the basis of secular and seasonal trends was substantial. During the first year of its adoption, Prop 47 led to an estimated 51 985 fewer felony arrests among Whites, 15 028 fewer among Blacks, and 50 113 fewer among Latinos (Table 2). These represent reductions of 75.9%, 66.1%, and 73.7%, respectively.

Table

TABLE 2— Observed vs Expected Arrests in All 58 Counties in the First Year of Prop 47: California, November 2014–October 2015

TABLE 2— Observed vs Expected Arrests in All 58 Counties in the First Year of Prop 47: California, November 2014–October 2015

Arrest typeObserved No.Expected No.Difference, No. (95% CI)% Change (95% CI)
Felony drug arrests
 White16 49868 483−51 985 (–80 459, −32 391)−75.9 (–71.7, −79.5)
 Black7 70022 728−15 028 (–29 994, –6 902)−66.1 (–59.3, −70.9)
 Latino17 91468 027−50 113 (–96 181, −24 837)−73.7 (–68.4, −76.9)
Total drug arrests
 White87 406107 866−20 460 (–36 180, −11 306)−19.0 (–13.5, −25.3)
 Black24 35431 433−7 079 (–16 082, –1 469)−22.5 (–6.7, −30.8)
 Latino78 199102 430−24 231 (–43 743, −12 179)−23.7 (–16.5, −28.5)

Note. CI = confidence interval.

Drug Arrests Overall

As reflected in Figure 1, there was a large dip in total drug arrest rates across all racial/ethnic groups during the first 2 months of Prop 47 implementation, followed by an increase in month 3 as felony arrests were replaced with misdemeanors. Nonetheless, in the first month, the decrease in felony drug arrests was greater than was the increase in misdemeanor drug arrests (Table 1), and by month 12 misdemeanor increases remained lower than did felony decreases.

We found that by month 12, the absolute Black–White disparity in total drug arrests declined by 24 (95% CI = −44, −3) per 100 000. Reductions among Latinos surpassed those of Whites as well (Table 1). Percentage declines in total drug arrests across groups ranged from 17% to 22% by month 12. Differences between groups in proportional declines were not significant, so relative disparities were unaltered.

On the basis of expected counts because of secular and seasonal trends, we estimate that Prop 47 led to 20 460 fewer arrests of Whites during the first year, 7079 fewer arrests of Blacks, and 24 231 fewer arrests of Latinos (Table 2). These represent reductions of 19.0%, 22.5%, and 23.7%, respectively.

Prop 47 and Unaffected Felony Arrests

In our analysis of Prop 47–affected offenses, we compared the same drug possession offenses regardless of their classification over time. The percentage decrease in arrests for these offenses ranged across racial/ethnic groups from 52% to 55% in the first month and 46% to 51% at 12 months after passage (Table 1).

There was no evidence that felony drug arrests for offenses unaffected by Prop 47 changed in any racial/ethnic group, either immediately or by 12 months after passage (Table 1).

Our analysis of 60 months of county-, race-, and offense-specific arrest rates in California points to several notable effects of Prop 47. Prop 47 led to substantially fewer drug arrests across all racial/ethnic groups. There was little indication of elevated drug arrest rates in Latinos compared with Whites before or after Prop 47, whereas the large absolute Black–White difference in felony drug arrest rates was reduced. With a higher proportion of felony drug offenses affected by Prop 47 (i.e., possession), Whites had the greatest proportional decline in drug felonies, contributing to an increase in the relative Black–White disparity. Prop 47 appears to have led to reductions in arrests for drug offenses overall (misdemeanor and felony) for which there was a decrease in the absolute Black–White difference, whereas relative disparities remained the same.

There has been little study of the impacts of reducing offense severity on racial/ethnic disparities in criminal justice involvement. In 1 exception, researchers found that reforming marijuana laws reduced arrests across all racial/ethnic groups and that there was no change in relative disparities between Blacks and other racial/ethnic groups.23 This aligns with our finding on Prop 47’s effect on total drug arrests, although we found increases in relative disparities for felonies.

Why did changing the classification of some drug offenses reduce drug arrests overall? Reductions in drug arrests were not likely to have been a reflection of underlying crime trends—violent and property crime rates increased during this period.24 Furthermore, declines in arrests were specific to Prop 47–affected offenses; arrests for unaffected drug felonies remained stable. Prop 47 was a ballot initiative, and law enforcement may be responding to perceptions of public opinion about public safety priorities. In areas with high rates of violent crime, police agencies may welcome a freeing up of resources to focus on these offenses. Officers may use their discretion to opt out of drug arrests and focus on offenses their department prioritizes. The initial drop in total drug arrests followed by the rise in month 3 suggests officers may also be responding to feedback from the courts regarding how to interpret and act on the legislative change.

Reductions in arrests for all drug offenses may also reflect fluid lines between drug possession and sale. One lieutenant explained to A. C. M. that in his city, individuals arrested for drug sale typically plead out to possession up to the third arrest, whereas arrests for possession were used to get information on sellers (personal communication, CA municipal police agency lieutenant, 2017). Reducing possession to a misdemeanor may have diminished tools police and prosecutors used to enforce drug laws, contributing to a de-emphasis on arrests for possession. These impacts warrant further investigation.

Although the absolute Black–White disparity in felony drug arrests decreased, the relative disparity increased, in part because of differences in preexisting felony offense composition by race/ethnicity. Blacks had larger proportions of felony drug offenses that Prop 47 did not alter, such as sale. Whether this reflects racial/ethnic differences in offending or racial/ethnic biases and practices in drug law enforcement cannot be determined from our data, but other studies point to the latter.3,25–27 Prop 47 targeted drug possession, with the aim of decriminalizing substance use disorder. However, distinctions between sale and possession can be murky and influenced by prosecutorial discretion concerning which charges to file. Further study of racial/ethnic inequalities in drug charges could help to address this unintended effect in California and states considering similar policies.

Public Health Implications

Considering the substantial evidence of the role of social and economic factors in health outcomes,28 reducing incarceration and felony convictions through policy reform may be a critical component of addressing racial/ethnic disparities in health. Our findings suggest that reclassifying drug offenses to misdemeanors is an effective approach to decreasing felony arrests across racial/ethnic groups and absolute differences between Blacks and Whites. However, a full assessment of how reducing criminal penalties affects racial/ethnic disparities in criminal justice involvement must go beyond the stage of arrest, particularly because groups may differ in the prevalence of prior convictions, which affects the likelihood of prosecution. Still, there is clear evidence that on a population level, there were declines in incarceration resulting from Prop 47.12,14 This provides an opportunity to evaluate how reducing exposure affects health and associated racial/ethnic disparities, including the health of families and communities most affected by high rates of incarceration.

Regarding more direct health impacts, a core component of Prop 47 was to reinvest savings from reduced incarceration to buttress substance use disorder and mental health treatment, with grants totaling $103 million awarded to 23 city and county agencies in mid-2017.29 Prop 47 generated debate about whether arrestees would lose the incentive to enroll in treatment without a felony threat, which remains to be evaluated.30 Alternatively, populations accessing treatment or the proportions entering through voluntary versus court-referred admissions may change.31

Racial/ethnic disparities in substance treatment access could be affected by Prop 47 as well. Blacks and Latinos arrested for drug offenses are more likely than are Whites to receive incarceration, rather than drug treatment diversion.32 Sentence standardization initiated by Prop 36 in 2001 reduced disparities but had a greater impact on Latinos than Blacks, perhaps because Blacks had more prior drug and violent offenses that precluded eligibility for diversion. Treatment resources generated by Prop 47 may have more promise for reducing disparities because of broader participant eligibility criteria stipulated in grant requirements (“arrested, charged with, or convicted of a criminal offense, and a history of mental health issues or substance use disorders”).29(p10)

Critical questions remain regarding how shifting funds from a criminal justice to a public health approach for substance use disorders will influence treatment enrollment and outcomes for health, well-being, productivity, and public safety. New programs funded by Prop 47 offer opportunities to evaluate these questions and identify the most effective models for improving public health.

Limitations

For individuals arrested for multiple offenses simultaneously, only the most severe offense is recorded in the register. Because Prop 47 reduced the severity of drug possession offenses, 1 concern is whether some reduction in arrests could be attributed to co-occurring offenses that became more severe than drug possession after Prop 47. This could occur only in measures incorporating offenses classified as felonies before Prop 47 and misdemeanors after Prop 47. These would include drug arrests reclassified by Prop 47 and total drug arrests but would exclude felony drug arrests, misdemeanor drug arrests, and felony drug arrests unaffected by Prop 47. We used data on juvenile arrests, which contained up to 5 co-occurring offenses, to estimate possible bias. We found that potential masking was minimal and would not have altered findings. Approximately 5% of drug arrests reclassified by Prop 47 may have been masked after policy—far less than the 46% to 51% declines in this category 12 months after policy implementation. We estimated masking in the total drug arrests measure at 3% compared with declines of 17% to 22% at 12 months after policy implementation.

Data are also at event rather than person level. Some arrests may represent the same person, although we minimized this possibility by using monthly rates. We assessed the extent of possible bias by linking individuals on name, date of birth, and jurisdiction for July 2013; just 1.2% were arrested more than once and 0.1% more than twice.

We also lacked data on prior convictions; Prop 47 offenses retain felony classification for individuals with serious or violent convictions, such as homicide and sexually violent offenses, or convictions requiring registration as a sex offender. The history of more frequent arrests and severe charges among Blacks arrested for drug offenses32 may have minimized the effects of Prop 47 on reducing Black–White disparities in felony convictions. Because other states are pursuing similar policy changes to reduce racial/ethnic disparities,17 this effect should be further explored, and limiting the prior record exclusion criterion should be considered.

Race/ethnicity in arrests data may be on the basis of officers’ observations, rather than self-report, in population denominators. This could lead to misclassification of the numerator in arrest rates, although sensitivity analyses indicated findings were robust. We also analyzed only 3 racial/ethnic groups; although these groups make up 95% of arrests in California, further research could assess disparities and impacts among other populations.

Conclusions

Reducing criminal penalties for drug possession may play an important role in reducing disproportionate felony convictions among Blacks, which in turn may help to narrow racial/ethnic disparities in health and social outcomes. Disparities at all stages of individuals’ experience with the criminal justice system that lead to racial/ethnic variation in arrests and charge composition must be addressed to ensure more equitable drug law reform.

See also Ferrer and Connolly, p. 968; and Galea and Vaughan, p. 985.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

We thank the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (grant 1F31MD011364-01 to A. C. M.) and the Bureau of Justice Statistics (grant 2016-R2-CX-0028 to A. C. M.) for funding this work.

We thank Estie Hudes, University of California, San Francisco, Center for AIDS Prevention Studies, for her generous statistical support.

Note. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health or the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

HUMAN PARTICIPANT PROTECTION

No protocol approval was necessary because no human participants were involved in this study.

References

1. Hedden SL; US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Behavioral Health Trends in the United States: Results From the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Rockville, MD; 2015; HHS publication no. SMA 154927. Google Scholar
2. Moore BJ, Stocks C, Owens PL. Trends in Emergency Department Visits, 2006–2014. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; 2017. HCUP statistical brief no. 227. Google Scholar
3. Mitchell O, Caudy MS. Examining racial disparities in drug arrests. Justice Q. 2015;32(2):288313. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
4. Behind Bars II: Substance Abuse and America’s Prison Population. New York, NY: Columbia University National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse; 2010. Google Scholar
5. State of California Department of Justice Office of the Attorney General. Criminal justice profiles. 2015. Available at: https://oag.ca.gov/crime/cjsc/criminal-justice-profiles. Accessed December 11, 2015. Google Scholar
6. California Department of Public Health. EpiCenter California injury data online. 2014. Available at: http://epicenter.cdph.ca.gov/ReportMenus/AlcoholDrugTable.aspx. Accessed March 15, 2016. Google Scholar
7. Iguchi MY, London JA, Forge NG, Hickman L, Fain T, Riehman K. Elements of well-being affected by criminalizing the drug user. Public Health Rep. 2002;117(suppl 1):S146S150. MedlineGoogle Scholar
8. Edin K, Nelson TJ, Paranal R. Fatherhood and Incarceration as Potential Turning Points in the Criminal Careers of Unskilled Men. Evanston, IL: Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University; 2001. Google Scholar
9. Comfort M. Doing Time Together: Love and Family in the Shadow of the Prison. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press; 2009. Google Scholar
10. Wildeman C, Western B. Incarceration in fragile families. Future Child. 2010;20(2):157177. Crossref, MedlineGoogle Scholar
11. Capers IB. The under-policed. 2016. Available at: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2838491. Accessed May 4, 2018. Google Scholar
12. Lofstrom M, Bird M, Martin B. California’s Historic Corrections Reforms. San Francisco, CA: Public Policy Institute of California; 2016. Google Scholar
13. Lofstrom M, Martin B. Proposition 47 brought decreases to both prison and jail populations. 2015. Available at: http://www.ppic.org/main/blog_detail.asp?i=1846. Accessed December 11, 2015. Google Scholar
14. Bird M, Tafoya S, Grattet R, Nguyen V. How has Proposition 47 affected California’s jail population? 2016. Available at: http://www.ppic.org/content/pubs/report/R_316MB3R.pdf. Accessed May 4, 2018. Google Scholar
15. Romano M. Proposition 47 progress report: year one implementation. 2015. Available at: https://www-cdn.law.stanford.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Prop-47-report.pdf. Accessed May 4, 2018. Google Scholar
16. Dooley-Sammuli M. Changing gears. California’s shift to smart justice: Prop 47 year one. 2015. Available at: https://idpc.net/publications/2015/11/changing-gears-california-s-shift-to-smart-justice-prop-47-year-one?setlang=en. Accessed May 4, 2018. Google Scholar
17. Woodworth W. Racial profiling, drug sentencing bill clears Oregon legislature. 2017. Available at: https://www.statesmanjournal.com/story/news/2017/07/07/racial-profiling-drug-sentencing-bill-clears-oregon-legislature/460289001. Accessed May 8, 2018. Google Scholar
18. Santaella-Tenorio J, Mauro CM, Wall MM, et al. US traffic fatalities, 1985–2014, and their relationship to medical marijuana laws. Am J Public Health. 2017;107(2):336342. LinkGoogle Scholar
19. Harper S, Bruckner TA. Did the great recession increase suicides in the USA? Evidence from an interrupted time series analysis. Ann Epidemiol. 2017;27(7):409414.e6. Crossref, MedlineGoogle Scholar
20. Wagner AK, Soumerai SB, Zhang F, Ross-Degnan D. Segmented regression analysis of interrupted time series studies in medication use research. J Clin Pharm Ther. 2002;27(4):299309. Crossref, MedlineGoogle Scholar
21. Livingston MD, Barnett TE, Delcher C, Wagenaar AC. Recreational cannabis legalization and opioid-related deaths in Colorado, 2000–2015. Am J Public Health. 2017;107(11):18271829. LinkGoogle Scholar
22. Bachhuber MA, Saloner B, Cunningham CO, Barry CL. Medical cannabis laws and opioid analgesic overdose mortality in the United States, 1999–2010. JAMA Intern Med. 2014;174(10):16681673. Crossref, MedlineGoogle Scholar
23. Males M, Buchen L. Reforming Marijuana Laws: Which Approach Best Reduces the Harms of Criminalization. A Five-State Analysis. San Francisco, CA: Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice; 2014. Google Scholar
24. California Department of Justice. Crime in California. 2015. Available at: https://oag.ca.gov/sites/all/files/agweb/pdfs/cjsc/publications/candd/cd15/cd15.pdf. Accessed May 4, 2018. Google Scholar
25. Beckett K, Nyrop K, Pfingst L. Race, drugs, and policing: understanding disparities in drug delivery arrests. Criminology. 2006;44(1):105137. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
26. Beckett K, Nyrop K, Pfingst L, Bowen M. Drug use, drug possession arrests, and the question of race: lessons from Seattle. Soc Probl. 2005;52(3):419441. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
27. Fielding-Miller R, Davidson P, Raj A. Blacks face higher risk of drug arrests in White neighborhoods. Int J Drug Policy. 2016;32:100103. Crossref, MedlineGoogle Scholar
28. Marmot M. The health gap: the challenge of an unequal world. Lancet. 2015;386(10011):24422444. Crossref, MedlineGoogle Scholar
29. Board of State and Community Corrections. Proposition 47 request for proposals. 2017. Available at: http://www.bscc.ca.gov/s_bsccprop47.php. Accessed May 8, 2018. Google Scholar
30. Chang C, Gerber M, Poston B. Unintended consequences of Prop. 47 pose challenge for criminal justice system. 2015. Available at: http://www.latimes.com/local/crime/la-me-prop47-anniversary-20151106-story.html. Accessed December 11, 2015. Google Scholar
31. Hser YI, Teruya C, Brown AH, Huang D, Evans E, Anglin MD. Impact of California’s Proposition 36 on the drug treatment system: treatment capacity and displacement. Am J Public Health. 2007;97(1):104109. LinkGoogle Scholar
32. Nicosia N, Macdonald JM, Arkes J. Disparities in criminal court referrals to drug treatment and prison for minority men. Am J Public Health. 2013;103(6):e77e84. LinkGoogle Scholar

Related

No related items

TOOLS

SHARE

ARTICLE CITATION

Alyssa C. Mooney, MPH, Eric Giannella, PhD, M. Maria Glymour, ScD, MS, Torsten B. Neilands, PhD, Meghan D. Morris, PhD, Jacqueline Tulsky, MD, and May Sudhinaraset, PhDAlyssa C. Mooney, M. Maria Glymour, and Meghan D. Morris are with the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of California, San Francisco. Eric Giannella is with the California Department of Justice, Oakland. Torsten B. Neilands is with the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies, Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco. Jacqueline Tulsky is with the Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco. May Sudhinaraset is with the Department of Community Health Sciences, Fielding School of Public Health, University of California, Los Angeles. “Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Arrests for Drug Possession After California Proposition 47, 2011–2016”, American Journal of Public Health 108, no. 8 (August 1, 2018): pp. 987-993.

https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2018.304445

PMID: 29927653