Recent Poll Finds Three Out of Four D.C. Voters Want to Remove Criminal Penalties for Marijuana Possession
D.C. Councilmembers Plan Legislation to Reduce Penalties for Possession; Nations Leading Drug Policy Reform Organization Calls for Elimination of All Penalties for Drug Possession
District of Columbia residents are arrested for marijuana possession at greater rates than residents of any U.S. state and D.C. taxpayers pay more per capita on marijuana arrests in the country, according to a groundbreaking report issued yesterday by the American Civil Liberties Union that examines nationwide state and county marijuana arrest data by race. “The War on Marijuana in Black and White: Billions of Dollars Wasted on Racially Biased Arrests” also found that African Americans comprise just over half the D.C. population, but accounted for more than nine out of every ten marijuana possession arrests in 2010. All told, African Americans were eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession that white residents, and more than 90 percent of all marijuana arrests in 2010 were of African Americans. Since 2001, the report found that the racial disparity in D.C. marijuana arrests widened by more than 75 percent as the overall marijuana arrest rate in D.C. grew more than 60 percent.
“The only way to reduce the appalling racial disparities in marijuana law enforcement and stop the hemorrhaging of law enforcement time and taxpayer dollars is to eliminate penalties for marijuana possession,” said Bill Piper, director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs. “Marijuana use in the D.C. should no longer be a crime and the people who possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use should no longer be branded for life as criminals,” said Piper.
The report release yesterday follows the recent release of a poll conducted by Public Policy Polling, and commissioned by the Drug Policy Alliance and Marijuana Policy Project, that found three out of four D.C. voters support changing District law to replace criminal penalties for possession of limited amounts of marijuana with a civil fine similar to a traffic ticket. More than 60 percent of D.C. voters in the survey would support a ballot measure similar to those approved by voters in Colorado and Washington in November, which made marijuana legal for adults and directed state officials to regulate and tax marijuana similarly to alcohol. A solid majority (54%) said drug use should be treated as a public health issue and people should no longer be arrested and locked up for possession of a small amount of any drug for personal use. An article published on May 15 in the Washington Post detailed plans by District of Columbia Councilmembers Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) and Anita Bonds (D-At Large) to introduce legislation reducing or eliminating criminal penalties for possessing marijuana.
“We applaud D.C. Councilmembers for considering legislation to address the human and fiscal toll that marijuana arrests are exacting on our community,” said Bill Piper, director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs. “Ultimately, possession of any drug in D.C. should not be a crime because drug use should be treated as a health issue instead of a criminal justice issue,” said Piper.
A national survey released by the Pew Research Center on April 4 found that, for the first time in its 40 years of polling on the issue, a majority of Americans (52%) support making marijuana legal. Similar national surveys conducted by Gallup and other polling firms have consistently found majority support for ending marijuana prohibition.