Washington D.C. has decriminalized marijuana, and the sky isn’t falling, despite the ire and prayers of unhappy Republicans. There is no uptick in violence. No reports of dirty hippies forming drum circles. No massive sit-ins full of pot-smoking socialists. All in all, reports of the implementation are pretty uneventful. In fact, enforcement of the new law has been lax, netting a total of five tickets from Metropolitan Police, according to The Washington Post.
One thing has changed, however; Not one person, of any age, has been arrested by MPDC for possession of under an ounce of marijuana in Washington DC for a full week.
Four of the tickets issued were issued in the city’s poorest, most segregated and longest-neglected ward, Ward 7, known for its public housing, and, more recently, as a destination for displacement and gentrification. Those four residents, whoever they are, were given a ticket instead of a trip to the police station. They won’t be on a court docket, or forced into an entanglement with the federal justice system. They won’t be a likely candidate for jail or in danger of incarceration in an out of state prison. They won’t be stuck on probation and listing the offense on job applications.
All in all, for those four residents, not a whole lot has changed. And that’s a probably a very good thing.
DC’s marijuana law is a pretty big deal after all, especially after last year’s ACLU study of marijuana arrests found that on average, in the nation’s capital, an African American is nearly eight times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as a white person, even though blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates. Nine out of ten marijuana arrests in DC are African American. DC’s drug law enforcement has been a huge contributor to the prison-industrial complex’s “open door policy” for poor, urban youths. Possession arrests surged more than 60% between 2001 and 2010, one of the largest increases in the nation. Arrests of young, black men accounted for much of that increase, raising concerns among community leaders and criminal justice experts about racial profiling by police.
In fact, statistically speaking, prior to the new law, one person was arrested for marijuana possession every two hours in DC. Most of the people arrested for marijuana possessed small, personal-use quantities.
The Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act went into effect last Thursday, and replaces criminal penalties for possession of one ounce of pot with a $25 civil fine, ending decades of failed drug policy that resulted in a cycle of poverty, incarceration, and crime for an overwhelmingly disproportionate number of young, black Americans.
Pushed by a meddling Republican the border state of Maryland, the House of Representatives did manage to pass a spending bill that included language barring the District from implementing the law through defunding it. Marijuana advocates say that this will only make it impossible for Metropolitan Police to write tickets for the measure, leaving police with no enforceable action to take if they are confronted with a situation in which the law would apply.