Back in 2015, Washington D.C. residents welcomed the legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes. Now, just three years after implementing the first law allowing it on America’s East Coast, police statistics suggest that cannabis arrests are rising in the District of Columbia. Just last year, almost 1,000 people faced charges for weed-related crimes.
According to new statistics from Marijuana Moment, metropolitan police made 926 arrests in 2017, which are at least 250 more than in 2016. Statistically, that is a whopping 37 percent increase. Of those arrested 403 faced charges for distribution, which indicates that cannabis users are still buying from the black market because of a lack of licensed pot businesses.
“Thanks to Congressional interference prohibiting the District from regulating marijuana, rather than collecting tax revenue and ensuring product safety, we are wasting resources and wreaking havoc on young people’s lives with continued arrests for marijuana use,” said Kaitlyn Boecker, Drug Policy Alliance’s policy manager, to Marijuana Moment. “It is absurd that despite legalization in the District, the Metropolitan Police Department continues to make such arrests.”
Since technically Washington D.C. is a district, not a state, its annual spending budget must get the rubber stamp of approval from Congress before it can spend any actual money. Despite city leaders fighting for a regulated market every year since residents in D.C. voted to legalize cannabis, leaders on Capitol Hill have been rejecting every proposal at every turn, which leaves District tourists and residents with obtaining illegal weed as their only option.
The District’s legalization law, approved in 2014 and named Initiative 71, made it legal for anyone 21-years or older to grow six plants at home and give any other consenting adults a “gift” of up to one ounce of pot. However, with homeowner laws preventing the majority from growing in their guest rooms, and since few cultivators will part with their crops free, an underground gifting economy is the new normal, with unlicensed dealers adding weed to high-priced commodities, such as t-shirts, juices, and other non-marijuana items.
Over the last few years, however, officers in D.C. have been focusing their attention on closing loopholes in the “gifting economy” and on pop-up weed events. In the process, these efforts are empowering officers and funding them with tax dollars to, in effect, recriminalize a drug that voters already legalized. People are languishing in jail cells and facing charges for a legal plant.
“I am alarmed that D.C. had nearly 1,000 marijuana arrests last year, three years after citizens overwhelmingly voted to legalize the adult use of cannabis,” Adam Eidinger, spokesperson for DCMJ, a cannabis advocacy group based in D.C., said in speaking to Marijuana Moment. If that is not bad enough, demographic data of the arrests in 2017 suggests blatant racial bias, with 90 percent of them being people of color.
In the official report from the department, 794 of those charged with pot-related crimes were “black,” as described by arresting officers, with only 35 recorded as “white non-Hispanic.” These numbers are frighteningly similar to other cities on the East Coast where marijuana remains illegal; such is in New York, where 90 percent of cannabis arrests are black or brown people.
Pot arrests in D.C. remain notably less than in the decades before implementing Initiative 71, but figures are once again rising. Without a comprehensive legal pot industry, adults are unable to benefit from the 2014 law. Police are still using the plant as an excuse to arrest people with widespread racial prejudice. Until Congress allows D.C. leaders to regulate a legal market, officers continue to criminalize marijuana consumers.