While arrests for violent crime sin the District are down over 50% since their peak, arrests for one category of crime have continued to increase each year – possession of marijuana.
D.C. now ranks #1 in the nation for marijuana arrests per capita, at 677 arrests per 100,000 – higher than any other city or state.
Over 90% of those arrested are young African Americans or Latinos – who are having enough difficulty finding employment, or continuing their education, without the added burden of a criminal record. Many employers now require that an applicant not have no criminal record. With unemployment so high, employers call the shots.
Statistically, African American pot smokers in the District are now 8 times as likely to be arrested for possession as white pot smokers, even though usage rates among blacks and whites are almost identical. The reason? “Jump-out Squads” don’t operate in wealthy neighborhoods, and white kids are not told to empty their pockets.
A marijuana arrest can disqualify a young person from employment, a security clearance, driver’s license, military service, college admissions and student loans. Is there a better way?
Thirteen states have now decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, treating it as a civil infraction, instead of a criminal offense. Leaders in this trend are Massachusetts (less than an ounce, $100 fine) and New York (less than 25 grms, $100).
The key difference between these states and the District (and Maryland and Virginia too) is that simple possession of personal use amounts of marijuana is treated as civil, not criminal. Young people in those states, just starting out in life and career, are not burdened with the stigma of a permanent criminal record.
Why should teens in DC, Maryland and Virginia be saddled with a criminal record for possession of a single joint, when their peers in other states can get caught 10 times with up to an ounce of weed and their records are completely clean? If they live in California or Colorado, they might well have a doctor’s prescription for pot. We need to level the playing field and save the stigma of criminal conviction for true criminals.
Zukerberg Law Center, PLLC
Adams Morgan Business District
1790 Lanier Place, NW
Washington, DC 20009-2118