How A Ballot Measure Decreased Racial Disparity In California Drug Arrests

By Victoria Kim 06/26/18

Prop. 47 led to a 75% reduction in felony drug arrests in California.

man wearing handcuffs

Four years after California voters approved Proposition 47 in 2014—which reclassified “non-serious and non-violent property and drug crimes” from a felony to a misdemeanor—a new analysis was able to quantify the impact that the measure has had on the state of California.

Not only did Prop. 47 lead to a 75% reduction in felony drug arrests in California, it was also associated with a reduction in the racial imbalance of drug arrests. One month after the measure was enacted, the difference between the number of Black and white felony drug arrests decreased from 81 to 44 per 100,000 population, and “continued to decline over the course of the year,” according to a statement by the UC San Francisco (UCSF).

The findings are encouraging to those who advocate for rolling back the harmful impact of the drug war, which includes a much-researched disparity in the number of Black and Latino Americans who are arrested and incarcerated for drug-related crimes compared with the number of white Americans.

“Our findings suggest that efforts like Prop. 47 are an effective way to decrease the disparity in drug arrests between Blacks and Whites,” said Alyssa Mooney, MPH, a UCSF doctoral student and study author.

“The collateral consequences of felony drug convictions are severe—affecting everything from whether someone can get a job to their ability to get housing and student aid,” Mooney said. “So, alleviating these disparities could help narrow the significant disparities we see between groups in important health and social outcomes.”

Efforts to level the playing field for communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the long-waged “War on Drugs” are being applied all across California. Nearly all of its major cities—including Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento and San Francisco—have implemented some sort of “equity program” to give a boost to certain individuals who wish to enter the booming marijuana industry.

And in San Francisco, officials have decided to retroactively apply Proposition 64, the measure that legalized the adult use of marijuana in California, to expunge thousands of marijuana convictions dating back to 1975.

“A criminal conviction can be a barrier to employment, housing and other benefits, so instead of waiting for the community to take action, we’re taking action for the community,” said San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr