Racial resentment and support for decriminalization of drug possession in the United States

Saba Rouhani, Emma Elizabeth McGinty, Noelle P. Weicker, Rebecca Hamilton White, Lindsay LaSalle, Colleen L. Barry, Susan G. Sherman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Drug criminalization creates significant barriers to prevention and treatment of substance use disorders and racial equity objectives, and removal of criminal penalties for drug possession is increasingly being endorsed by health and justice advocates. We present empirical data estimating the share of U.S. adults who support eliminating criminal penalties for possession of all illicit drugs, and examine factors associated with public support. Data from the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Civic Life and Public Health Survey, a probability-based nationally representative sample of 1222 U.S. adults, was collected from November 11–30, 2020. Support for decriminalizing drug possession was assessed overall and by sociodemographic factors and attitudes towards politics and race. Correlates of support were examined using multivariable logistic regression. Thirty-five percent of adults supported eliminating criminal penalties for drug possession in the U.S. In adjusted regression models, respondents who were younger or identified as politically liberal were more likely to support decriminalization relative to other groups, and respondents who were Hispanic or identified strongly with their religious beliefs were less likely to support decriminalization. Among white respondents, greater racial resentment was strongly associated with reduced support for drug decriminalization. Support for drug decriminalization varies considerably by beliefs about politics and race, with racial resentment among white Americans potentially comprising a barrier to drug policy reform. Findings can inform communication and advocacy efforts to promote drug policy reform in the United States.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number107189
JournalPreventive Medicine
StatePublished - Oct 2022


  • Decriminalization
  • Drug policy
  • Incarceration
  • Racial resentment
  • Substance use

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


Dive into the research topics of 'Racial resentment and support for decriminalization of drug possession in the United States'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this