Crime Stats Show D.C. Leads Nation In Per Capita Marijuana Arrests The vast majority of people arrested on pot charges are black. Why?

Walk down the streets almost anywhere in the District, and you won’t have to go far before you catch a whiff of a certain well-liked herb. Even before D.C.’s medical-marijuana law allows prescription pot, the scent of cannabis often drifts out of cars, hovers around the front of bars or wafts along sidewalks.

A federal study estimates 78,000 people in D.C. used pot in 2007, the last year for which statistics were available. That’s about 13 percent of the population at large; meanwhile, more than a quarter of 18-to-25-year-olds said they’d smoked in the last month alone.

Still, D.C. isn’t exactly Amsterdam: More per capita marijuana arrests are made in the District than in any other jurisdiction in the country, according to a recent analysis of MPD and FBI data by Shenandoah University criminal justice professor Jon Gettman, the former director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Pot arrests have been rising steadily every year since at least 2003, mirroring a national trend that began in the 1990s. And they didn’t really work. “We doubled marijuana arrests and it had no effect on the number of users,” Gettman says.

But even with a high arrest rate, some people in D.C. can probably safely get high without worrying that the cops are coming. Those people are white people. In 2007, 91 percent of those arrested for marijuana were black. In a city whose population demographics are steadily evening out, that’s odd. In fact, adjusting for population, African Americans are eight times as likely to be arrested for weed as white smokers are.

Even accounting for the number of people who move to D.C. for government or government-related jobs with security clearances that keep them from touching pot, that statistic comes as a surprise. The federal study—the National Survey on Drug Use & Health, produced by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration—found pot use by black residents here is only slightly higher than white residents. (The study found 12.2 percent of black Washingtonians said they’d smoked in the last year, compared to 10.5 percent of whites.)

So why do black residents make up the vast majority of people arrested on marijuana charges? “It’s all about where the cops go fishing,” Gettman says.

Take some of the arrests made this past weekend, which were typical of the types of drug busts in the District:

• On Saturday morning, MPD officers executed a search warrant on the 20th Street NE digs of Michael Evans, 26. In the pocket of his blue jeans they found “a small plastic container containing green plant material,” according to charging documents. Evans admitted to cops that the weed was his, and was arrested.

• That afternoon, on 16th Street NE, Jeremy Platter, 22, was busted, court papers say. An officer from the First District vice squad had established an “observation post” where he saw a man smoking a blunt. “The unknown male subject then handed a blunt to D-2 (Jeremy Plater),” who started to smoke the blunt. When police closed in, “Plater was observed dropping the blunt from behind his back onto the ground and stepping on the blunt.”

• On Saturday evening, after allegedly failing to use his turn signal at about 11 o’clock in the 2300 block of 11th Street NW, Edward Whitaker, 22, of Woodbridge, Va., was arrested for marijuana possession. During the traffic stop, cops found “a small red zip of green leafy-like substance and brass knuckles” in his car door.

Of the six people who were arrested over the weekend for marijuana charges alone, all were African American. The unlucky six could face up to a year in jail and up to $1,000 in fines for possession, or a year in prison and $10,000 in fines for intent to distribute.

What’s clear from studying the stats and the arrest patterns is that who gets busted on marijuana charges basically comes down to where police are putting patrols, serving papers or making traffic stops—and who they’re stopping. Smoke a joint in the privacy of your Chevy Chase home, and the chances of a cop showing up to cuff you for it are practically zero. Spark a blunt while strolling down the street in Ivy City, though, and an officer who’s already in the area may well spot you.

Part of the discrepancy also comes from the way black and white Washingtonians buy, and use, weed. There aren’t any open-air drug markets in the city’s predominantly white neighborhoods, so people who live in, say, Forest Hills tend to buy pot from someone they know, behind closed doors.

MPD officials did not comment for this story by press time. But they say there’s nothing nefarious about the racial breakdown of the pot arrests. There’s a simple explanation, Assistant MPD Chief Peter Newsham told The Washington Post in 2007: It’s a lot easier to detect than, say, crack or heroin. “You can drop a rock and run,” Newsham told the Post. “If you drop a Ziploc bag of marijuana, you’re going to leave a big patch of green.”

But that doesn’t really seem to explain the whole situation. Between 2001 and 2009, the parts of D.C. that saw the greatest increases in arrests were Wards 5 and 7, according to a brief published earlier this year by the Justice Policy Institute, a group dedicated to “ending society’s reliance on incarceration.” Many of those arrests were for low-level pot charges. Those wards also happen to have significantly higher percentages of people of color than, say, Ward 3 or Ward 2, notes Tracy Velázquez, the group’s executive director.

Meanwhile, according to government drug abuse stats, racially diverse Wards 1 and 2 have a slightly higher percentage of monthly pot users than Wards 5 and 7. They also have a slightly higher percentage of users of illicit drugs other than marijuana.

“One thing about drug arrests is they’re proactive,” Velázquez says. “People are not going to call the police and say, ‘My neighbor is smoking pot.’” Because of that, she says, arresting pot smokers is about who cops decide to keep any eye on or search.

And in the District, apparently, that still means blacks more than whites.

Our Readers Say

What the stats don't show is how many people are detained for smoking weed. The vast majority of weed heads in DC are not black people. The issue with this story is that the police only arrest the black weed smoking. Others are given a warning or perhaps a citation. The police along with all the power brokers are continuosly on the backs of black folks. Black president, black oppression. Black mayors, black oppression. This shit is clear in the nation's captial and it's clear in the nation. At some point the shit has got to stop.
"What’s clear from studying the stats and the arrest patterns is that who gets busted on marijuana charges basically comes down to where police are putting patrols, serving papers or making traffic stops—and who they’re stopping. Smoke a joint in the privacy of your Chevy Chase home, and the chances of a cop showing up to cuff you for it are practically zero. Spark a blunt while strolling down the street in Ivy City, though, and an officer who’s already in the area may well spot you."

I am not unsympathetic to those who violate the law and use cannabis. I also am concerned by the article's principal argument, i.e., that charges for cannabis use are disproportionate. I would add, however, that breaking the law openly--even if the law criminalizes arguably innocuous behavior--seems likely to create an atmosphere in which other, more serious laws are disregarded. I am less troubled by a person who lights up in his house. But charging the guy who is smoking a blunt in plain view is a different matter. Go inside!
This article completely misses the nexus between open pot use on the streets and the persistent nuisance crime that brings our neighborhoods down. In this city the police are not empowered with any authority to disperse, for instance, a loud crowd of young men on a residential corner at 11:00pm. The community as it is will not abide the council giving the police tools like anti-gang and anti-loitering zones for fear that it will be used arbitrarily, as if we all can't tell the difference between a group of young men and a group of young men looking for a victim. So these young men get to raise hell all night, disturbing everyone trying to sleep on half the block. But wait, how much you want to bet the police can find a pot charge in that group of young men and take some guys in to the station. Problem solved. Not the way it should be, but problem solved nonetheless.
Second Ward 5, pot busts are one of the few tools MPD has to intercede rowdy guys who will proceed to violence most times. MPD cannot bust for rowdy violent behavior due to the City Council, so they use what they can.

Also, rolling and smoking lots of stinky blunts in a public place is a status symbol and such for many black men/boys, and smoking weed in very public places is very normal in that demographic. Most whites are much more secretive about it and won't just spark up a blunt or joint on a street corner. That probably accounts for a lot of the discrepancy.
The MPD is on track and following the plan that was set up a long time ago. That plan is to rid the city of Black people all together and arresting pot smokers is one of the easiest ways to get that done. They not only get them off the street, they also go into their homes. If the police smell pot coming from a residence, they will get a search warrant and go into the homes of black people. However, if the person is white, they will not get that warrant. They are more likely to give them a warning. They don't want the white person to lose his job behind pot smoking. They don't care about the black person. The majority of the pot smokers that they have arrested are working people whose only crime was smoking pot. Even though I am totally against the smoking of pot, I am even more against the way blacks are treated in comparison to whites. This is just another form of racism and genocide.
Annnnd there you go. Voters like Delpha here are why the council will never give MPD the ability to control the relatively small number of unemployed 9th grade drop-outs who make living in this city so difficult. I mean really, I guess the only explanation IS a massive complicated conspiracy being undertaken by the developers, the politicians, and the police! And racists, all of them!
Delpha, I've heard tinfoil hats will protect you. But then the aliens come. Ahh the aliens.
Geez, fuckin' go inside the house! How hard is that? Don't buy on the street. Find a dealer who deals indoors. Is it really that challenging?

Okay, before anyone asks, I'm white. But the fact is, I've smoked for decades in the District, WITH BLACK PEOPLE, and never been hassled. In "good" neighborhoods and "bad", in every quadrant of the city. You know why? We do it indoors! Fuckin' dummies.
It's not surprising at all that more blacks are arrested than whites in DC proper. Like a lot of people have already pointed out, is it more likely that a cop is going to wait near a street corner where open-air drug use is rampant, or drive around the suburbs sniffing at windows? The statistics used in this article are misleading at best.
"That plan is to rid the city of Black people all together and arresting pot smokers is one of the easiest ways to get that done."

Right, because all black people are criminals, right? racist jerk.
Well I'm white, I've spent 21 days inside DC Jail (gun charges/ Unconstitutional Search and Seizure) and it's a shame how many innocent people are locked up. This has destroyed the family unit in DC and will have impacts that reverberate for decades. How's dad going to pay child support or help with the homework when he's behind bars.
2/3 of the people in Jail over the age of 25 should not be in there. When I was taken in I was cellies with an 87 year old man with a cane. WTF!
And as far as my gun charges, I'm fighting on Constitutional Grounds. Something a Black Person wouldn't have the gall nor the opportunity to do. It's unfortunate and not the America I grew up to protect.
Cheerio!
" it's so primative....the laws that man has made to belittle the poor " - Peter Tosh on Marijuana
It's pretty simple to not get busted with pot.

1) Don't drive with it. If you must, keep it in your trunk and deny all police requests to search your vehicle. If they want to find it, they will, with or without your consent. You have few rights while operating a vehicle. A car is not your castle according to the law.

2) Don't smoke in the car.

3) Don't score on the street.

4) Don't smoke on the street.

5) Don't casually carry weed around like you would cigarettes. If you're going to bring weed some where for recreational use, bring as little as possible, i.e. a joint or a half a joint.

6) Avoid trouble while you have weed on you.

It's really not that difficult.
It's pretty simple to not get busted with pot.

1) Don't drive with it. If you must, keep it in your trunk and deny all police requests to search your vehicle. If they want to find it, they will, with or without your consent. You have few rights while operating a vehicle. A car is not your castle according to the law.

2) Don't smoke in the car.

3) Don't score on the street.

4) Don't smoke on the street.

5) Don't casually carry weed around like you would cigarettes. If you're going to bring weed some where for recreational use, bring as little as possible, i.e. a joint or a half a joint.

6) Avoid trouble while you have weed on you.

It's really not that difficult.
SW is correct! The so-called negro don't no how 2b low key. They got to show off. It's the same with playing music 2 loud in their cars. But I have also seen white people smoking cigs, while driving with the windows rolled up with little children in the back seat...
Same ole D.C. I'm black like me. I was busted in 1968 for a few blades of grass; blades a white Park Police found because I had a burned out headlight. Busted on the humble. Y'all still use that phrase? (T'was a '63 Buick Skylark - A 2 tone coupe: Deep Teal body w/ a cream colored roof. But I digress ...) Anyone who challenges the police's intelligence w/ public smoking needs to go down for it. If you need to be loud on the street, don't be wrong too. What is you -- stupid? Ebonics for any colored girls on the verge of a nervous breakdown. D.C. you are a mess.
Effin A is on to something.. but it's not just DC that is a mess. Its the whole country! I mean these arrests that don't sound like such a big deal, oh someone got busted with some grass urr hurr well, guess what even if its just a misdemeanor, you still have the thousands in legal costs, possible jail time, and that charge will follow you forever, every time you want a job or even a house. So now this young kid who's only like 18 or 19, has a stupid little charge and cant get a good job. So he starts selling. and we can see where it goes from there. So maybe instead of arresting the people, and causing all this unneeded hardship, they could just let us be and NOT ARREST A PEACEFUL PERSON FOR POSSESSING A BAG OF GROUND UP FLOWERS! how fucked up of a society are we where possessing a bag of flowers is a crime. I can go to a bar and legally drink til I'm dead (that doesn't take long) But I can't smoke a blunt on my porch with my boy Jeremy Plater here. Yea. Awesome country we live in.

PS. Mike Hawke knows what's good though

PPS Little Dragon.. don't ever stop thinking that what those white ladies do is wrong. Cuz it is. It's child abuse, and that's the crap police should be arresting people for, instead of victimless crimes like possessing as benign a substance as cannabis. Keep it real lil homie.
It sounds like there are just too many police in the Black neighborhoods pehaps because of violent crime, unrelated to marijuana use. Solution: reduce violent crime in Black neigborhoods. It ain't rocket science.
Too bad DC doesn't take a page from New York state, or the 12 other states which have decriminalized personal use amounts of weed. These forward-looking states sanction possession of marijuana with a "civil" citation, requiring the payment of a fine. Young people, minorities, and the many who use marijuana for legitimate medical reasons (Chemo, MS, HIV) aren't stigmatized with a "criminal" record. A marijuana conviction in DC can effect employment, school, student loans, driver's license, immigration and of course put you in jail for up to 180 days. Shocking, when most of these "offenders" are our neighbors, friends, or relatives, unlucky enough to be stumbled upon by the police and locked up.
Delpha... Did you bother to consider the statistical prevalence of arrest or incarceration of Blacks vs Whites when making your racist comment? You didn't because those statistics might sway the affect your totally racist opinion has on the reader... As long as blacks statistically are arrested more than whites, which is fact and not my opinion, they probably will be arrested more for smoking pot than white people, as well as for other violations. My advice to all the people being arrested for smoking pot is to go smoke it at home and don't break other laws which would bring the police to your house and Boom, you won't get arrested. Black people can smoke their pot in peace without fear of going to jail if they would make any effort to avoid it -- which is evidently happening because many black pot smokers are never arrested. Its the careless sector of people, not racially sorted, who are arrested because they lack any respect for the law and those who enforce it. Its more important to appear fearless and thug than to stay out of jail for some people and that's why they go to jail. A healthy fear of jail is a very good way to avoid being arrested for any reason. That is the defining difference, its not color of skin, but perception, respect, and fear of being jailed... basically, a proper dose of "shit" must be given by those who do not want the embarrassment, expense, inconvenience, and reputation that comes with going to jail... and for some, that works just fine.
The national black population is about 13%. Blacks commit about half of all murders in the US, and 93% of blacks murdered in the US are murdered by blacks. It seems somewhat natural to think that if a small percentage of the population can be responsible for half of one violent index crime, it is no surprising that a large segment of the same population would be more likely to abuse any illegal drug, such as marijuana. Not an answer, but an observation.

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