Racial and gender inequities in the implementation of a cannabis criminal justice diversion program in a large and diverse metropolitan county of the USA
Background: Diversion programs are considered alternatives to the arrest and incarceration of non-violent drug offenders, including those found in possession of smaller amounts of cannabis in states with prohibitive laws. Despite the progressive nature of such programs, the inability to complete diversion program requirements can often result in greater involvement with the criminal justice system than traditional case adjudication. Few studies have evaluated racial group differences in cannabis diversion program completion.
Methods: The current study examined a sample of 8323 adult participants in Harris County, Texas’ Marijuana Misdemeanor Diversion Program (MMDP) between March 2017 and July 2019. Gender, age, and race/ethnicity were examined as predictors of program completion and time to completion using Chi square, Kruskal Wallis tests,
and Cox proportional hazard regression models.
Results: Both males and African Americans were over-represented (80 % and 50 %, respectively) among participants of Harris County’s MMDP. African American (HR = 0.782, 95 % CI [.735–.832], p < .001) and Latino American MMDP participants (HR = .822, 95 % CI [.720–.937], p = .003) had significantly lower odds of MMDP completion and a longer interval to program completion as compared to non-Latino White participants.
Conclusions: The current study identified racial/ethnic and gender disparities in a large county’s cannabis diversion program. These findings may be related to law enforcement disparities which disproportionately target males and people of color. Findings may serve to inform the continued reform of the criminal justice system, particularly laws relating to cannabis.