The Promise of Marijuana Legalization to Reduce Racial Disparities in Youth Legal System Contact in New Jersey

How are young adult males’ experiences with and perceptions of the criminal justice system affected by reform and reparation components of marijuana legalization in New Jersey, and how do these experiences vary among Black, Latinx, and White youth?

Racial disparities are persistent in the criminal justice system, and recent legislation in New Jersey offers a novel opportunity to examine one avenue for addressing a major cause of these disparities: the disproportionate enforcement of drug laws in communities of color. In this study, Powell and colleagues will examine how the decriminalization of marijuana in New Jersey has been interpreted and experienced by Black, Latinx, and White young adults. Because this legislation not only decriminalized the recreational use of marijuana for individuals eighteen and older, but also included reform and reparation components that alter police contact and automatically expunge criminal records for now non-punishable offenses, it may alter racial inequalities in interactions with the criminal justice system and barriers that accompany a criminal record. The team will conduct a statewide survey and interviews with young adults who were arrested for a marijuana offense before legalization. They will compare how Black, Latinx, and White youth have experienced and perceived the reforms in their everyday lives, focusing on police contact, perceptions of the criminal justice system, and outcomes such as educational attainment, employment, and mental health. The team will use survey data to run a series of multivariate linear regressions to examine how race and ethnicity are associated with these outcomes, and interview data to more fully explore how the reforms are experienced in a specific time, place, and law enforcement context. At the same time, Powell and colleagues will investigate the possibility that decriminalization has been accompanied by unanticipated negative consequences, such as encouraging increased marijuana use. Findings from this study will shed light on the promise of state-level marijuana decriminalization and reform to reduce racial inequalities in legal system context and consequences. In addition to sharing findings through academic outlets, the team will conduct outreach with stakeholders and policymakers in Camden and throughout New Jersey.

Subscribe for Updates