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Media Release


Self-Help Credit Union Report: Racial Disparities in Marijuana Enforcement Undercut Durham Progress

Nov 19, 2015

Media Contact: David Beck, Self Help, david.beck@self-help.org, 919-956-4495

Durham, NC - A new report issued by community development lender Self-Help Credit Union examining enforcement of minor marijuana offenses in Durham has found that wide racial disparities persist. Over 80% of people charged for misdemeanor marijuana offenses in Durham are African American, while whites represent only a small fraction of charges. A disproportionate share of these charges involve young African-American men, often closing or limiting their opportunities for higher education, affordable housing and decent employment.

“The racial disparities in enforcement simply don’t match usage rates of marijuana, which is comparable between African Americans and whites,” said Randy Chambers, President of Self-Help Credit Union.  “Not only is this fundamentally unfair, this type of enforcement comes at a high price. While we and many other organizations and the city itself are investing in Durham’s lower-income neighborhoods, an intense focus on misdemeanors in these same areas undermines our work and blocks too many young people from pursuing a better future.”

The report, “Dealing with Marijuana Misdemeanors in Durham,” is based on publicly available data covering the six-month period from February through August 2015. In addition to looking at charges by race, the report also maps the home addresses of people who were charged with marijuana misdemeanors. The report finds that some of the neighborhoods most affected by enforcement actions are the same communities where Self-Help and others are investing as part of a City of Durham anti-poverty program.

Significantly, the analysis shows that only 12% of misdemeanor marijuana charges are directly attributable to a citizen complaint. The majority of charges stem from actions initiated by the Durham Police Department, with a vehicle stop being the most common triggering event.

Among other findings in the report:

  • African Americans age 25 and under represent about 15% of Durham’s population, yet this group represents 46% of misdemeanor marijuana charges.
  • Even after recent reforms, disparate enforcement has persisted, and Durham’s record is out of line with other progressive cities. For example, Durham’s charge rate today for low-level marijuana charges is three times higher than Seattle’s back in 2002.
  • A simple misdemeanor conviction costs families up to $374 in court fees and fines. The costs in lost opportunities for education and employment are much higher, and grossly disproportionate to the infractions.
Self-Help endorses the FADE Coalition’s recommendations that the Durham City Council adopt a policy that makes misdemeanor marijuana violations the lowest priority for Durham law enforcement—a policy that has already been implemented in at least eleven other cities across the nation. The report, which includes specific recommendations for implementing and enforcing this policy, was sent to Durham City Council members earlier this week and is available at: https://www.self-help.org/updates/racial-disparities-on-marijuana-misdemeanors
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