The Durham Police Department filed about half as many misdemeanor marijuana charges in 2017 than it did the year before, according to a newly released annual report.
In 2017, the DPD filed 498 charges for misdemeanor marijuana possession or possession of drug paraphernalia, across 426 individual arrests. That’s down from 854 charges in 2016 and 1,406 in 2013.
About 56 percent of the 2017 charges were for possession of drug paraphernalia. The 498 marijuana-related charges accounted for about 5 percent of all charges filed by the DPD in 2017.
According to the report, those charges “were distributed throughout the City, with the
highest concentrations occurring at the Durham County Jail and Wellons Village shopping center.” This appears to be a shift from 2016, when there were “slight concentrations” in East Durham and McDougald
Misdemeanor marijuana charges in the city have been on the decline since the FADE Coalition in 2013 recommended that the DPD make marijuana the agency’s lowest law enforcement priority as one of five changes to reduce mass incarceration and racially disparate policing.
While the department’s general orders don’t name marijuana enforcement as its lowest priority, Police Chief C.J. Davis in November 2016 instructed officers to issue citations rather than arrest people for misdemeanor marijuana offenses under certain circumstances, for example when the person is not facing other types of charges.
That policy change did not cause an increase in the percentage of people charged only with misdemeanor marijuana offenses who were cited rather than arrested.
In 2015, prior to the citation directive, there were 144 cases in which only those charges were filed. Out of those, a quarter — thirty-seven — resulted in citations. In 2016, there were also 144 such cases, 42 percent of which resulted in citations. Last year, out of the eight-seven cases in which only misdemeanor marijuana charges were filed, 39 percent led to a citation rather than arrest.
At the same time, though, officers are referring people charged with misdemeanor marijuana offenses to the Misdemeanor Diversion Program, which allows first-time misdemeanor offenders twenty-one and younger to avoid a mark on their record. Thirty-three people with misdemeanor marijuana and paraphernalia charges were referred to the program last year, up from twenty-four in 2016.
Black people are still disproportionately charged in cases involving only misdemeanor marijuana offenses, although the percentage has ticked down slightly. In 2017, 78 percent of people charged only with misdemeanor marijuana or drug paraphernalia possession were black. In 2016, it was 80 percent. In 2015 it was 84 percent.