Marijuana-Related Arrests Rise in DC Despite Legalization


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The Marijuana Moment recently analyzed Metropolitan Police Department data which shows that marijuana-related arrests have grown since 2015, even though marijuana was decriminalized in 2014. In 2017, 926 people were arrested for marijuana-related crimes, a number which increased by 37 percent since 2016.

DC state law allows individuals to possess small amounts of marijuana, up to two ounces. However, it is illegal for someone to smoke publicly, “donate”, or possess more than the established quantity of cannabis.

Another concerning factor of this analysis, and probably the most concerning of all, is that the data shows a racial disparity in the arrests. Ninety-one percent of the marijuana-related arrests in 2017 were of people in the black community. These numbers show how deep the problem is, especially because according to the U.S. Census Bureau the District’s black population is at 47 percent.

April Goggans of Black Lives Matter D.C. said that this is a clear proof that the black community is being targeted by the police. “They are targeting black folks,” Goggans said. “They are targeting black neighborhoods. They are assuming probably that most black people have marijuana … that is larger than the amount allowed by law.”

D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham was asked by FOX 5 about the data and if there is an uneven application of the district marijuana laws. “I think that taking any one stat and somehow using that one stat to kind of make that indicative of police action I think is probably unfair and probably not the best way to do it,” he said.

Newsham also said that from the possession arrests, most of the defendants had very large quantities of marijuana. He also said that with some of the arrests, it is probable that this person was charged with a more serious crime and not only arrested based on marijuana crimes.

This problem with racial disparity in marijuana-related arrests is not solely occurring in DC. In a report published by the Drug Policy Alliance, data shows that although arrests have declined for all racial groups after legalization in various US states, there are still racial disparities among these arrests.

Comparing races, black people are still much more likely to be arrested for a marijuana-related crime. Alaska legalized marijuana in 2014, but sales started only by 2016. There, both white and black arrest rates decreased by nearly 99 percent and more than 93 percent, respectively, between the years of 2012 and 2016. However, black people were arrested for marijuana crimes at a rate of 17.7 per 100,000 in 2016, while white people were arrested for the same crimes at a rate of 1.8 per 100,000. A number which is about 10 times less.

In Colorado, marijuana was legalized in 2012 and started selling recreational cannabis in 2014. A 2016 report from the Colorado Department of Public Safety said that the arrest rate of black people for marijuana-related crimes was about three times higher that of whites.

Racial justice activists argue that there needs to be a change in how drug laws are enforced by the police.  “As white people exploit the changing tide on marijuana, the racism that drove its prohibition is ignored… So are the consequences for black communities, where the war on drugs is most heavily waged.”

Vincent M. Southerland, and Johanna B. Steinberg of the Bronx Defenders to the New York Times

When will our leaders take charge and at least recognize that this is a very real problem?


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