Slightly more than half of admissions to U.S. publicly-funded treatment for marijuana use are referred by the criminal justice system; this pattern has remained for at least 20 years. Nationally, Blacks comprise nearly a third of treatment admissions for marijuana use. This article explores the interplay between race and criminal justice referrals to treatment for marijuana use. Using data from the (U.S.) 2011 Treatment Episode Data Set, we examine the relationship between race and diagnosis of cannabis use disorder (dependence versus abuse) among referrals to community-based treatment in North Carolina. We compare Black/White differences in cannabis diagnoses across four referral sources: the criminal justice system, healthcare providers, self, and other sources. Race was significantly related to type of diagnosis across all four referral sources, however, the nature of the relationship was distinctly different among criminal justice referrals with Whites being more likely than Blacks to be diagnosed with cannabis dependence. Moreover, the marijuana use profiles of criminal justice referrals differed substantially from individuals referred by other sources. The findings suggest that diagnoses of cannabis abuse (rather than dependence) may have worked to widen the diagnostic net by “capturing” individuals under control of the criminal justice system who manifested few problems with marijuana use, other than their involvement in the criminal justice system. The potential for a net-widening effect appeared to be most pronounced for Blacks.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited