Black people in North Carolina and across the United States are much more likely to be incarcerated than white people, according to a new study. However, the report, which was released on Dec. 3, also found that racial disparities have decreased over the past 16 years.

Researchers at the nonpartisan Council on Criminal Justice found that black individuals were approximately five times more likely than white individuals to be sentenced to state prison for drug crimes in 2016. In comparison, black people were 15 times more likely to be imprisoned for drug offenses in 2000. The researchers also found that black men outnumbered white men in state prisons by a six-to-one ratio in 2016, which is a drop from the nine-to-one disparity that was present in 2000. Meanwhile, black women outnumbered white women in state prisons by a two-to-one margin in 2016. The disparity was six-to-one back in 2000.

According to the authors of the study, marijuana legalization is partly responsible for the changes in racial disparity. However, they found the changes began appearing before marijuana laws started softening. As a result, they believe that there has been a societal shift in the way police officers and the general public now view drugs and the enforcement of drug laws. For example, there has been a significant dip in crime rates and criminal penalties in California and other states in recent years. This is particularly true for drug and property crimes.

Individuals charged with drug crimes or other criminal offenses might wish to contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. After reviewing the evidence in the case, legal counsel might be able to poke holes in the prosecution’s case and get the charges dismissed. Another strategy might involve negotiating a plea deal that reduces the charges, which may help the defendant obtain a lighter sentence.