An analysis conducted by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs on non-juvenile arrests between 2009 and 2011 reports that African Americans in Washington, D.C. are arrested for drug offenses in substantially higher numbers than non-blacks.
The study, titled ‘Racial Disparities in Arrests in the District of Columbia, 2009-2011: Implications for Civil Rights and Criminal Justice in the Nation’s Capital,’ stated that nearly 90 percent of all drug arrests in D.C. are of African American individuals—a startling statistic, given that survey data shows little difference in drug use rates between whites and blacks living in the same region. The of drug possession arrests in predominantly white neighborhoods in D.C. numbered far less than those in predominantly black areas. Eight of 10 people charged with disorderly conduct in D.C. are black, and, overall, eight of 10 arrests in D.C. are of African American descent.
The majority of drug offenses found in the study were marijuana possession arrests. Unlike the drug laws of many U.S. states, possession of the drug in D.C. is considered a criminal misdemeanor, with a maximum punishment of six months in jail and $1,000 in fines.
The D.C. Council is currently considering a revision to D.C. drug laws that would reduce the penalties for marijuana possession under or equal to one ounce of the drug. The new law would reduce the fine to a $100 civil violation. A survey released by Public Policy Polling in April suggested that about 75 percent of D.C. residents and voters would support the penalty reduction. The measure is co-sponsored by nine of the 13 members of the D.C. Council.
Authors of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs study urge D.C. policymakers to make decriminalization or legalization of marijuana an “immediate priority.”