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Texas: Black Men Overrepresented in Harris County’s Marijuana Diversion Program

Oct.8, 2020

Houston, TX: African Americans are 20 percent of the population of Harris County, Texas (population: 4.7 million), but comprise just under half of all participants in the county’s Marijuana Misdemeanor Diversion Program (MMDP), according to data published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

A team of researchers affiliated with the University of Houston reviewed the program’s participants over a 28-month period. Under the countywide policy, which was initially enacted in 2017, first-time offenders found in the possession of two ounces or less of marijuana may participate in a pre-trial diversion program. Those who complete the program do not have criminal charges filed against them and do not receive a criminal record.

Authors reported that 80 percent of the program’s participants were male, and 49 percent of all of those in the program were Black.

“The over-enrollment of African Americans in the MMDP is consistent with past studies that have shown African Americans to be more likely than White Americans to be arrested for cannabis possession,” authors concluded. “This finding appears to challenge the effectiveness of the MMDP’s policy statement which explicitly states the aim of addressing the disproportionate impact of cannabis prosecutions on people of color.”

Texas police in 2018 made nearly 100,000 arrests for marijuana violations – the highest total of any state in the nation.

Nationwide, Black people are nearly four-times as likely as Whites to be arrested in the United States for marijuana-possession offenses, according to an analysis published earlier this year by the American Civil Liberties Union. By contrast, federal data provided by the US Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration indicates that Whites are more likely than Blacks to report having ever used cannabis.

Full text of the study, “Racial and gender inequities in the implementation of a cannabis criminal justice diversion program in a large and diverse metropolitan county of the USA,” appears in Drug and Alcohol Dependence. Additional information regarding racial disparities in marijuana law enforcement appears in the NORML fact sheet.

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