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Researchers say that reducing penalties for drug possession in North Carolina and elsewhere could lead to a reduction in racial disparities in the court system. It could also cause an indirect reduction in health disparities.

Since the 1970s, drug arrests have disproportionately impacted communities of color. However, a study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that California's Proposition 47, a 2014 law that reclassified drug felonies as misdemeanors, caused a reduction in racial and ethnic arrest disparities. Researchers examined statistics from the California Department of Justice's Monthly Arrest and Citations register from 2011 until 2016. There were approximately 1 million drug arrests made over the five-year study period. During the first 30 days after Proposition 47 went into effect, absolute felony drug arrest disparities between white and black defendants dropped from 81 per 100,000 to 44 per 100,000. Disparities continued to fall over subsequent months.

According to the authors of the study, a felony drug conviction can negatively impact a defendant's access to jobs, housing, education and health benefits. It can also impact his or her immigration status. If states reduced drug penalties, the social impact would also be lessened. The authors believe this could eventually erase racial health disparities.

People facing drug charges are not always convicted. By working with a criminal defense attorney, a defendant may be able to successfully fight the allegations and protect his or her future. An attorney could scrutinize the case for signs police overstepped their authority during the arrest, which could cause the charges to be dropped. Legal counsel could also attempt to poke holes in the prosecution's case, which could lead to an acquittal.

Source: Reuters, "Reducing drug possession penalties may have impact on health inequalities", Carolyn Crist, July 13, 2018

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