Stark Racial Disparities and Disturbing Growth in Washington D.C. Marijuana Arrests Despite Legalization

Press Release August 8, 2018
Media Contact

Tony Newman 646-335-5384
Kailyn Boecker 402-670-3773

Recently released data from the District of Columbia’s Metropolitan Police Department shows that racial disparities in arrests for marijuana remain high, despite marijuana becoming legal for adult use in 2015. In 2017, 86% of arrestees were Black, despite the fact that Black residents make up only around 47% of the District’s population. 

Though arrests for possession remain low, arrests for distribution and public consumption have increased significantly. MPD more than quadrupled arrests for distribution (75 to 403) and more than tripled arrests for public consumption (85 to 265) from 2015 to 2017. Racial disparities are disturbingly high for both charges, 2017 data shows 92% (369 of 403) of arrestees for distribution were Black, and 75% (200 of 265) of arrestees for public consumption were Black. 

Below is a statement from Kaitlyn Boecker, Policy Manager of the Drug Policy Alliance

“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.

The war on drugs has always been a war on people, particularly on people of color. Initiative 71 was passed by voters in large part to eliminate racial disparities in marijuana arrests, but due to racial bias and uneven enforcement, four years later Black men continue to be overwhelmingly targeted for arrests. The overwhelming majority of District voters rejected marijuana prohibition and its legacy of biased enforcement by voting to legalize adult use, possession and cultivation of marijuana. Despite this, MPD continues to arrest our residents for marijuana, quadrupling arrests for distribution and tripling arrests for public consumption from 2015 to 2017.  This is unacceptable, marijuana arrests do not advance public health or safety, and violate the will of the voters. 

We know the public health consequences of an arrest far outweigh the public health consequences of marijuana use. Even the NYPD has recently announced a shift to their policy on public marijuana use, specifically because of the issue of racial disparities in enforcement. It’s absurd that despite legalization in the District, MPD continues to make such arrests; as former MPD Chief Cathy Lanier said years ago, ‘All those arrests do is make people hate us.’ ”

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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