With recreational weed laws now reality in Colorado and Washington, along with the first commercial hemp crop being planted in 60 years, skies seem clear for marijuana advocates—or perhaps happily hazy. In the District, however, an ACLU report suggests that racial bias continues to mar increasing possession arrests.
Using FBI and U.S. Census data, the report examined arrests for marijuana possession across America. D.C. arrests ballooned over 60 percent from 2001 to 2010. On a nationwide average, a black individual is 3.37 times more likely than a white individual to be arrested for possession. In the District, nine out of 10 arrests were black, the second largest disparity in the nation. Baltimore took first. The report also indicates this phenomenon occurs in virtually everywhere in the U.S., as 96 percent of counties (with over 30,000 residents and a 2 percent black population) have higher possession arrest rates for black individuals.
These statistics are concerning since rates of marijuana use are near equal for blacks and whites. Furthermore, these findings raise questions on police use of racial profiling.
The crackdown on Mary Jane is puzzlingly absent from police chief reports countrywide. The cause may arise from certain arrest strategies. The “stop-and-frisk” is a New York creation, wherein an officer may search an individual they deem suspicious of criminal activity.
D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier refuted that her force consciously targeted marijuana possession arrests. Another D.C. police source remarked that black arrests constituted 85 percent of aggregate arrests in 2012, down from 91 percent in 2010.
The ACLU report concludes that only the decriminalization of possession will stop racial targeting as well as save exorbitant enforcement costs countrywide, which rang in at $3.7 billion in 2010. The reports reads, “To repair this country’s wrecked War on Marijuana, the ACLU recommends the marijuana be legalized for persons 21 or older through a system of taxation, licensing, and regulation.”
Here in the District, the dialogue on marijuana has opened up further with the election of Paul Zukerberg to the District Council’s at-large seat this past spring. Zukerberg made marijuana a central platform, decrying how a possession arrest severely hinders a young adult’s employability.
Furthermore, the decriminalization of marijuana has public support in D.C., as shown by a recent poll. Action might finally be taken on the government level: Council members Tommy Wells and Marion Berry have discussed writing a bill to reduce penalties, or perhaps wholly decriminalize possession.
In an interview with the Post, Wells said, “It’s time we enter the 21st century and stop criminalizing people … for what is not really a major crime.”
Photo: Torben Hansen via Flickr