The ABCs of Racial Disparity: Enforcement of Low-Level Drug Crimes in Dallas County in 2018


In the city of Richardson, where Black people are 10 percent of the population, they make up 45 percent of Class C defendants.

In Dallas County, police discretion determines whether a person will be tried in municipal or county court for possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia. This report examines the marijuana enforcement trends of six large Dallas County municipalities (Dallas, Garland, Grand Prairie, Irving, Mesquite, and Richardson) in 2018. Their analysis demonstrated that Black people were overrepresented among people cited, arrested, prosecuted, or referred to the Dallas County District Attorney for low-level drug offenses. 

You can read the full text here.

Key Findings:

  • Despite similar rates of marijuana usage in Black and white populations, there is significant disproportionality in the enforcement of marijuana possession and drug paraphernalia laws.
  • In the six municipalities studied, Black populations ranged from 10 percent to 26 percent of the general population, but Black people accounted for between 28 percent and 45 percent of the people prosecuted for possession of drug paraphernalia. 
  • In 2018, police rarely used cite-and-release options for misdemeanor marijuana possession.
  • A police officers discretion on what to charge a person can lead to different outcomes; a paraphernalia charge is a Class C misdemeanor with a maximum fine of $500, a marijuana charge can be a Class B or A misdemeanor with a max fine of $2,000 and up to 180 days in jail and $4,000 and up to a year in jail, respectively.
  • In each of the six municipalities, Black people were more likely to be prosecuted for Class C possession of paraphernalia and more likely to be referred for Class A or B prosecution for possession of marijuana.
  • In the city of Dallas, 24 percent of the population was Black, yet Black people accounted for 52 percent of the marijuana possession cases law enforcement agencies referred to their District Attorney’s Office for prosecution. 
Kenitra Brown, Dr. Andrew L.B. Davies, Kristin Meeks, Professor Pamela Metzger, Dr. Victoria Smiegocki
SMU Dedman School of Law and Deason Center