Congressional Ban On D.C. Marijuana Sales Drives Arrests, New Police Data Suggests

Congressional Ban On D.C. Marijuana Sales Drives Arrests, New Police Data Suggests

New data from the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department, released last week, shows that arrests for marijuana-related infractions in the nation’s capital rose substantially again from 2016 to 2017. In particular, busts for distribution have skyrocketed, while huge racial disparities in arrests continue unabated.

A total of 926 people were arrested for cannabis crimes in Washington, D.C. in 2017, up 37 percent from 676 in 2016.

The numbers had fallen dramatically in 2014 and 2015 after the Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment went into effect in July 2014 and Initiative 71 went into effect in February 2015. The Amendment, approved by the D.C. Council in July 2014, decriminalized possession of up to one ounce. The Initiative, approved by 65 percent of voters that November, allows adults 21 and older to possess up to two ounces of marijuana, grow up to six plants and “gift” up to one ounce of cannabis to another adult.

But sales remain banned despite support from a majority of councilmembers and Mayor Muriel Bowser (D). That’s because Congress continues to attach language to annual funding bills that prevents D.C. from spending its own money to legalize and regulate the marijuana trade.

Overall marijuana arrests in the District have steadily increased in the two years since the initial drops following decriminalization and limited legalization, and a Marijuana Moment analysis of the new data shows that the rise appears to be related to the lack of a legal supply chain for cannabis.

In 2015, only 323 people were arrested for marijuana possession, consumption or distribution. In 2016, that number doubled, and 2017 arrests are nearly triple what they were in 2015. While not anywhere close to pre-decriminalization 2012 or 2013 numbers, the trend is unmistakable.

Types of Arrests

Strikingly, the type of charges made for cannabis-related arrests has been inverted in the last six years.

Since possession of limited amounts of cannabis is now legal in the District, possession arrests are rare (only 35 total in 2016-17). In turn, public consumption rates rose markedly in 2015 and 2016, but fell slightly in 2017 as police began applying more serious distribution charges more frequently.

Percentage-wise, the growth in distribution arrests is startling. In 2012, distribution accounted for only 4 percent of arrests. In 2017, it was 43.5 percent. Even by raw numbers, distribution arrests have soared. This type of bust rose 83 percent from 2016 to 2017, and nearly five times as many people were arrested on this charge in 2017 than in 2013 (403 and 83, respectively).

(If someone is arrested on multiple marijuana charges, only the most serious charge is listed in the data.)

In recent months, dozens of arrests have been made at “pop up events” that have emerged in the city in response to the “gifting” language in the law. Typically, vendors will sell unrelated products such as juices or shirts, and “gift” cannabis to those customers for free. But since the overall transactions require remuneration in the form of the supposedly unrelated purchases, police have said they violate city law.

That form of commerce—and the resulting arrests—would almost certainly diminish significantly if people could legally buy cannabis directly from licensed stores.

Local legislators have proposed both regulated sales and social use over the last few years, but Congress has exerted its influence multiple times to prevent such measures from moving forward.

“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,” Kaitlyn Boecker, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, told Marijuana Moment in response to these latest numbers. “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.’”

Racial Disparity in Arrests

The out-of-whack percentage of African Americans arrested in the District of Columbia for marijuana violations has been the subject of scrutiny for years now. The U.S. Census Bureauputs the African American population of the District at 47 percent and white (non-Hispanic) at 37 percent. But as this set of data reveals, for every 10 people arrested for a marijuana violation, nine of them are black.

In 2016, the numbers seemed to be improving slightly, with the share of African American cannabis arrests down 3.5 percentage points, but in 2017, the numbers rose slightly to return to 91 percent of arrests. Non-Hispanic Whites represented only 4 percent of arrests. In real numbers, 794 people coded “black” by the arresting officer were arrested in 2017, while only 35 people coded “white” but not “Hispanic” were arrested.

Arrest Year Black       White
(non-Hispanic)
Hispanic Asian Other
2012 89.34% 4.50% 3.40% 0.44% 2.31%
2013 90.19% 5.15% 3.44% 0.34% 0.88%
2014 90.64% 4.68% 2.77% 0.24% 1.67%
2015 92.04% 2.87% 3.82% 0.32% 0.96%
2016 88.56% 3.13% 6.90% 0.16% 1.25%
2017 90.85% 4.00% 4.00% 0.34% 0.80%

(A note on the data: Race is not recorded for arrests of juveniles. D.C. police say, “Race and ethnicity data are based on officer observation, which may or may not be accurate.”)

“The war on drugs has always been a war on people, particularly on people of color,” said Boecker. “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. This is unacceptable and must stop. Marijuana arrests do not advance public health or safety, and violate the will of the voters.”

Age of Those Arrested

From 2012-2017, the age of those arrested for marijuana infractions has stayed relatively steady. The one exception is the percentage of arrests for those under 21, which in 2016 jumped 8 percentage points, to 23 percent of those arrested, the highest year in this data set. In 2017, the percentage fell to 19.8 percent, which is still higher than 2013-15 numbers.

The numbers of those 21-29 arrested, by far the age group with the most arrests each year, fell and rose in tandem with these fluctuations in the younger cohort (down 5 percent in 2016, then back up a couple of points in 2017).

Women and Weed

Arrests of women for marijuana-related incidents leveled off in 2017, after four years of annual decreases. In 2012, women made up 12.6 percent of arrests. By 2016, that number had fallen to 7.1 percent (52 arrests). In 2017, 64 women were arrested — only 7.3 percent of total arrests.

Federal and Local Policies Both to Blame, Activists Say

Overall the new police data shows that while legalization of low-level possession and home cultivation in D.C. has driven a significant decline in marijuana arrests overall, discriminatory enforcement continues and issues related to the lack of a legal supply chain persist.

“I’m alarmed that D.C. had nearly 1,000 marijuana arrests last year three years after citizens overwhelming voted to legalize adult use of cannabis,” Adam Eidinger of DCMJ, the group that successfully campaigned for 2014’s legalization measure, told Marijuana Moment.

In addition to the congressional regulatory blockade, he pointed to the city’s own ban on public cannabis consumption as being partially at fault for the recent uptick in marijuana arrests.

“As a result people in public housing that does not allow cannabis use choose to consume outside risking arrest rather than smoke in their homes and risk eviction,” Eidinger said. “This catch 22 situation for cannabis users, including people carrying a medical card from the D.C. government, is the policy leading to more arrests.”

See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:

Congressional Ban On D.C. Marijuana Sales Drives Arrests, New Police Data Suggests

New FBI Data Reveals Staggering Marijuana Arrest Numbers

New FBI Data Reveals Staggering Marijuana Arrest Numbers

Even with marijuana legalization expanding to more and more states, the number of cannabis-related arrests was still on the rise in 2014.

According to recently released FBI data, there were 700,993 marijuana arrests throughout the United States in 2014. That number averages out to one arrest every 45 seconds.

Drug crimes made up the largest category of offenses that people were arrested for in 2014, with marijuana arrests making up 44.9 percent of all drug-related arrests. Nearly 90 percent of all those arrests were for minor possession alone.

Comparing 2014 to the previous year, there were 693,482 marijuana arrests in 2013. With an increase of over 7,000 more arrests than the year before, it seems as if national cannabis reform is struggling to positively impact law enforcements perception of marijuana.

Tom Angell, founder of Marijuana Majority and activist for marijuana policy reform, spoke on the recently released statistics,

“It’s unacceptable that police still put this many people in handcuffs for something that a growing majority of Americans think should be legal. A record number of states are expected to vote on legalizing marijuana next year, so we hope and expect to see these numbers significantly dropping soon. There’s just no good reason that so much police time and taxpayer money is spent punishing people for marijuana when so many murders, rapes and robberies go unsolved.”

As states continue to work towards reform, whether it comes in the form of decriminalization or complete recreational legalization, it will be interesting to see whether these arrest numbers decrease next year or continue to rise.

Marijuana Arrests Decreased Dramatically in Colorado

Marijuana Arrests Decreased Dramatically in Colorado

When Colorado voters legalized marijuana in 2012, it was expected that criminal charges related to the plant would decrease. However, a recent report by the Drug Policy Alliance shows that the decrease is even more significant than predicted.

According to the Drug Policy Alliance, Colorado has experienced a 95 percent drop in charges for cultivation, possession, and distribution of marijuana. There were 38,878 charges in 2010 but only 2,036 charges in 2014.

Possession has historically been the category with the highest number of criminal charges. In 2010, there were 30,428 people charged with possession. In 2012, the year voters approved Amendment 64 effectively legalizing recreational possession and retail sales, there were only 8,928 people charged. That number dropped to just 1,922 in 2014 when retail marijuana dispensaries opened for business. It remains illegal for an adult to be found in possession of more than 1 ounce of marijuana, so anyone with more than that can still be charged.

Charges for distribution and cultivation have been lowered by more than 95 percent from 2010 to 2014. There were only 23 distribution charges and 91 cultivation charges filed in 2014.

marijuana charges colorado

Although they have significantly decreased, there are still notable racial disparities when it comes to marijuana arrests in the Centennial State. According to the report by Drug Policy Alliance, this is largely due to the fact that although legalization was enacted, “law enforcement practices that produce racial disparities in such arrests have not changed.”

In 2010, the marijuana possession arrest rate for white people was 335 for every 100,000 people, where as the corresponding number was 851 for every 100,000 black people. Black people make up less than 4 percent of the state’s population, but they make up over 9 percent of the marijuana possession arrests in the state of Colorado.

Additionally, even though the overall number of possession related arrests went down a great deal in 2014, black people are still arrested more than double the amount of white people for possession. They also still comprise more than 9 percent of arrests related to possession.

The state judicial system provided the data here. They compared the number of charges and cases related to marijuana before and after Amendment 64 was passed. These figures were combined with data from the National Incident Based Reporting System that is utilized by law enforcement agencies all over the state of Colorado to report crimes. The report states that the data is not all-inclusive, and leaves out some of the possession cases for Denver due to inconsistencies between criminal codes.

Art Way, Colorado state director for the Drug Policy Alliance pointed out that even though there are still some kinks to work out for the legalization system, Colorado is on the right track.

“It’s heartening to see that tens of thousands of otherwise law-abiding Coloradans have been spared the travesty of getting handcuffed or being charged for small amounts of marijuana[…]By focusing on public health rather than criminalization, Colorado is better positioned to address the potential harms of marijuana use, while diminishing many of the worst aspects of the war on drugs.”

Way explained.

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