D.C. Police Chief Says Marijuana Arrests Erode Community Relations

Washington, D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier recently spoke out against the legal framework under which officers have been forced to target marijuana consumers in recent years. She decried the system of prohibition for the way it eroded police-community relations, and said the only thing those arrests accomplish is “making people hate us.”
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She stated marijuana smokers are far less a problem than drinkers of alcohol. No one who smokes marijuana is going to attack or kill an officer, she said.

“They just want to get a bag of chips and relax,” she said. She later clarified that she doesn’t believe consumption of marijuana is healthy, but added she is not policing the city as a mother and 7 out of 10 voters supported legalization in the city. In terms of public safety, it’s a relatively benign drug with widespread acceptance, which means arrests tend to harm the community more than help it.

This is noteworthy coming from an agency that for years had the highest marijuana arrest rate in the country.

A report prepared last year by the American Civil Liberties Union revealed the D.C. arrest rate for marijuana possession was 846 per 100,000 between 2001 and 2010. That was more than three times higher than the national average of 256 per 100,000. What’s worse, the number of minorities suffered a vastly disproportionate impact. Black people, for example, accounted for 91 percent of those arrested for marijuana possession, and they were eight times more likely to be arrested for this offense than their white counterparts. The research further revealed it wasn’t that they were more likely to be committing possession-related offenses; they were simply more likely to be arrested for it.

Not only are these laws irrational, they are also highly unfair.

Lanier’s comments came in defiance of Congressional efforts to halt the sale of marijuana sales for recreational purposes in the nation’s capitol.

She wryly countered Congressional threats to arrest city leaders who implement a lawfully-passed effort to legalize marijuana by saying such an effort would be “a bit of a problem for a police chief.”

Those remarks were made a press conference, whereby she stood next to the D.C. mayor and other officials who were holding firm in their belief that the will of the people should be respected.

Prior to the recreational legalization measure, D.C. had already decriminalized marijuana possession, so long as it was an ounce or less. That happened last summer. Now, violators incur a civil fine of $25. Littering, meanwhile, will result in a $75 fine.

The updated law allows individuals to possess a maximum two ounces. Further, all residents are permitted to grow up to six marijuana plants in their private residence. It’s a change Lanier says she and her department have “embraced.”

While some observed her enthusiasm for the measure seemed “forced,” she indicated she wasn’t necessarily advocating for the use of marijuana, just noting that enforcement of arcane laws makes little sense from a public safety standpoint.

The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, collectives, patients and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 714-937-2050.

Additional Resources:
Washington, DC, police chief on marijuana: “All those arrests do is make people hate us”, March 3, 2015, By German Lopez, Vox.com
More Blog Entries:
Study: Stoned Drivers Safer Than Drunk Drivers, Feb. 17, 2015, Los Angeles Marijuana Lawyer Blog