After Legalization, Almost Everyone Arrested For Weed In Washington D.C. Is Black

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Written by Ann Brown
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After Legalization, Almost Everyone Arrested For Weed In Washington, D.C. Is Black (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Marijuana legalization happened in 2015 in Washington, D.C., allowing people to smoke weed but not buy or sell it.

While marijuana arrests have dropped by more than half, African Americans still account for almost 90 percent of people arrested on all pot-related charges, according to a Washington Post analysis of police records. Black residents make up 45 percent of the city’s population.

D.C. voters approved Initiative 71 in 2014 — a ballot measure that allowed possession of up to two ounces of marijuana by adults 21 and older. The initiative also allowed adults to gift up to one ounce of weed to other adults and for the home cultivation of up to six cannabis plants. 

Studies show that show marijuana use is equally prevalent among Black people and white, but police in D.C. are much more likely to arrest Black people for marijuana-related offenses, High Times reported.

Prior to legalization, Black people comprised about 89 percent of 8,092 pot-related arrests from 2012 to 2014, the Post’s analysis reported. 

Following legalization, there were 3,631 marijuana arrests between 2015 and 2019. Eighty-nine percent of those arrested were Black people.

Men accounted for 89 percent of all marijuana arrests during the eight-year period. Of those males, 90 percent were Black. Nearly 65 percent of those arrested were between ages 18 and 30, the Washington Post reported.

Not much has changed either as far as the location of arrests. Both before and after legalization, just over 40 percent of arrests occurred in Wards 7 and 8, which include the District’s poorest and most heavily African American neighborhoods. Less than 1 percent of all arrests occurred in Ward 3, which includes predominantly white and prosperous neighborhoods, the Post analysis showed.

This means that Black neighborhoods are still being targeted disproportionately by law enforcement.

“Rather than go to American University or George Washington’s campus, where we know there are marijuana sales, they’re focusing on poor communities of color that are mostly African American,” Georgetown University law professor Vida Johnson said.

“And to what end?” she continued. “We have already decided as a community that marijuana isn’t dangerous.”

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The results of the Post analysis echo a recent report in Minneapolis, where George Floyd was killed on May 25 by police. Traffic stops there have drastically decreased from an average of 351 per week before May 25, 2020, to 70 per week at the end of August. What hasn’t changed are the racial disparities.

From Floyd’s death until the end of August, 47 percent of traffic stops recorded were of people identified as Black and 7 percent as East African. Only 24 percent of traffic stops were of people identified as white. The Minneapolis population is 19.4 percent Black and 63.8 percent white.

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