A man's silhouette hunched over in front of a Washington DC metro map.

Richardo Ricciardi

Cannabis Arrests in D.C. Climb Following 2015 Legalization

In 2015 voters in Washington D.C. approved a ballot initiative to legalize cannabis in the nation’s capital; however that didn’t stop cannabis arrests from tripling between 2015 and 2016, according to a Washington Post report.  In 2015, 142 people were arrested for cannabis possession; that number jumped over 400 in 2016. As of April 5, 78 people have been arrested for possession in the District.

Arrests for distribution – which was not legalized by the 2015 referendum – also climbed from 80 in 2015 to 220 in 2016, according to police arrest records outlined by the Post. As of April 5, 79 people have been arrested for distribution. The data includes arrests by D.C. police and other law enforcement agencies operating in the District.

Dustin Sternbeck, D.C. police spokesperson, said that legalization has led to more arrests for public consumption and that the rise in arrest rates for distribution is due to the department focusing “its drug enforcement effort on illegal sales.”

Jonathan Smith, executive director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, called the figures “very troubling,” and that they suggest “a return to failed practices of over-policing and underserving communities of color” while crime levels drop to historic lows in the District.

At least 12 people were arrested during two cannabis-related protests in D.C. on and around April 20, however, it’s not clear whether all of those arrests were for cannabis-related crimes. The police data for this year obtained by the Post does not reflect those dates.

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