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Is drug enforcement racially disparate?

The country’s attitude about marijuana has undergone dramatic changes in recent years. However, a criminal defense attorney knows that other policy shifts are also underway regarding federal drug enforcement and accompanying mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines. For example, the U.S. Sentencing Commission recently voted to retroactively reduce sentences for certain convicted drug offenders.

Readers may question what underlies this apparent policy shift. Marijuana provides a micro case study. According to 2013 data from the American Civil Liberties Union, marijuana use is roughly equal between whites and blacks. However, the arrest rate is disparate, with blacks 3.7 times more likely to be arrested on marijuana possession charges. 

Most marijuana arrests do not result in felony charges. Unfortunately, an arrest can become part of an accused’s criminal record, even if it does not result in conviction. A misdemeanor also stays on a defendant’s record. With multiple arrests to an individual’s record, he or she might be subject to repeat offender criminal charges in the event of a future arrest. Yet even a single arrest might hinder employment prospects for a young adult.

What this means for anyone facing a drug possession charge is that a consultation with a criminal defense attorney is highly advisable. A drug crimes lawyer can work to reduce drug charges from federal to state charges, thereby avoiding minimum sentence guidelines. An attorney can also investigate all aspects of the arrest record for possible racial profiling or other improper police procedures. Given the apparent racial disparity in drug enforcement, a defense along those lines may be possible. Of course, police must follow proper procedures at every step in an arrest, and other errors might also give way to a strong defense. 

Source: The New York Times, “The Injustice of Marijuana Arrests,” Jesse Wegman, July 28, 2014

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Is drug enforcement racially disparate? | The Law Office of Gregory N. Smith