In a study that appears in The American Journal of Public Health, researchers argue that if more felony drug offenses were reclassified as misdemeanors, as was the case with California’s Proposition 47, many racial disparities in the criminal justice system would be reduced. Furthermore, certain populations would have better health outcomes. Researchers identified a number of other factors that are affected by felony drug convictions as well, including immigration status and financial aid for college along with access to jobs, housing and health benefits.
After the passage of Proposition 47 in 2014, racial disparities in arrests dropped in contrast to what the study’s lead author argued was the case with the rise of incarceration beginning in the 1970s. The study analyzed data from 2011 to 2015 and looked at ethnic and racial disparities just after Proposition 47 and one year after. According to the lead author, police practices changed even within the first month.
Next, researchers plan to examine what happens after a person is taken into custody. They are looking at whether prosecutors have changed the kinds of charges they file and if felony convictions are more or less likely. A researcher in Florida who was not involved in this particular study pointed out that the kinds of alternatives and plea deals available can vary by jurisdiction.
Whether people are facing charges for drug possession or more serious charges such as drug trafficking, they may want to consult an attorney about their rights. The attorney may be able to advise the person regarding the best strategy based on the circumstances of the case. For example, if the drugs were seized during an illegal search, then it could result in the evidence being excluded and the charges being dropped.