There are many activities that, while illegal in public, are perfectly acceptable when done in the privacy of one’s home. Changing clothes. Sex. Drinking alcohol. And now, in Colorado and Washington state, smoking pot.
But Seattle’s 2,303 homeless people don’t have the privilege that four walls provide. If they want to partake in these human activities that society as a whole enjoys, they risk citation and arrest.
That’s precisely what the Seattle Police Department found when they examined the first half of 2014: homeless people accounted for nearly half of all marijuana citations.
After Washington state voters opted to legalize marijuana in 2012, Seattle passed a law requiring its police department to report various demographic factors, like age and race, on citations it hands out for marijuana offenses, like smoking in public.
The report for 2014 found that officers had issued 82 tickets for public consumption between January 1 and June 30. Approximately 46 percent of those citations went to individuals who were homeless, despite the fact that just one of every 300 people living in Seattle is homeless. In other words, homeless people are 243 times more likely to be cited for marijuana consumption than people with enough money to afford a home.
Racial disparities were also evident in citation statistics. More than one-third of tickets were handed out to African Americans, despite accounting for less than one-tenth of Seattle’s population.
Some Seattle officials are pushing to rectify these disparities. For instance, Seattle Councilman Nick Licata and City Attorney Pete Holmes told the Associated Press that there needs to be more places in Seattle where people can legally consume marijuana. In a letter last year, Holmes advocated for the development of marijuana cafes in Seattle, calling it “both a race and social justice and an economic development issue” and noting that many renters and tourists didn’t have a private place they were permitted to consume.