Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Van Tran

Committee Members

Lynn Chancer

Michael Jacobson

Carla Shedd

Harry Levine

Subject Categories

Politics and Social Change | Race and Ethnicity | Social Control, Law, Crime, and Deviance | Sociology


Urban Sociology, Comparative Historical, Race and Ethnicity, Labor Markets


This dissertation pursues a multi-method approach to understanding marijuana possession laws. I pursue analyses at the national level (the United States), the state level (New York State), and locally (New York City). I broadly analyze the development, adoption, and implementation of marijuana laws and policies. First, the dissertation involves archival research of national congressional hearings, commissions, and press statements from the 1950s to the 1990s. In the national chapter, I employ framing and process tracing techniques to decipher periods of criminalization and decriminalization. Findings illustrate how the periods of 1952-1960 and 1982-1996 underwent a period of criminalization of marijuana possession focused on Black users, whereas the 1960-1982 period underwent a period of decriminalization of marijuana possession focused on white middle-class interests, values, and a solution-oriented approach. Importantly, I trace the final solution in the decriminalization period to the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse, which recommended the decriminalization of marijuana possession in 1972. Findings also show how the last period of criminalization established the presence of a “drug-free society” in public housing buildings, culminating in making marijuana possession inside of a resident’s home illegal and an offense worthy of eviction. In the New York State chapter, I evaluate the making of the New York State Marijuana Law of 1977 and its implementation in New York City. Findings show how state politicians and actors interpreted and adopted the “public view or burning” language in the bill, a bill that was staunchly a decriminalization bill but left open the criminalization of marijuana possession in public. According to the records, legislators framed the bill around white middle-class interests. The second part of the chapter performs a quantitative analysis of the neighborhood effects of enforcement for marijuana possession in New York City. Using both arrests and complaint data from the New York City Police Department from 2006 to 2009, I examine neighborhood enforcement of marijuana possession using census tracts. Regression analyses utilize a spatial lag of marijuana possession enforcement to test the influence of sociodemographic variables and the presence of a New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) building(s) in a census tract (called NYCHA tracts) on the rate of marijuana possession arrests and complaints. Findings show that increasing marijuana possession policing in New York City occurs in tracts with a NYCHA building, with a higher percentage of NYCHA buildings, with a higher percentage of Black residents, and with higher indexes of concentrated disadvantage. The last chapter combines research on the “mark of a criminal record” with the War on Drugs scholarship to hypothesize that a Black person with criminal justice contact for marijuana possession encounters a lifetime disadvantage in securing employment opportunities and the eventual loss of substantial annual income. Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth from 2003 to 2018, I explore a theory of cumulative disadvantage to examine whether criminal justice contact for drug possession and drug possession related to marijuana exacerbated racial inequality in the labor market. Using growth curve modeling and propensity score matching, I find that a drug possession charge related to marijuana significantly stifled the annual income, full-time employment, and job stability of Blacks. However, my analyses did not find any significant differences over time for whites or Hispanics. I conclude with an assessment of these results as a continuation of the reproduction of racial inequality in Black communities.

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