If the legalization of marijuana possession goes into effect in Washington, D.C., the city’s police chief thinks it will save officers both time and energy.
Asked if last year’s ballot initiative to legalize pot has impacted policing, Chief Cathy Lanier told NewsChannel 8, “Marijuana possession has never been a big arrest category. If you’re arrested for possession of marijuana, typically we get it because there’s some other charge and then we find the marijuana in a search upon arrest.” According to Lanier, possession has led to few arrests in the past few years, since people are rarely prosecuted. Subsequently, “It saves us from having to charge someone for small amounts of marijuana now, because it really never was productive to begin with. It’s a little bit easier for us, actually.”
As noted by Marijuana Majority Chairman Tom Angell, Lanier’s claim that marijuana arrests are unusual is hard to square with an ACLU investigation from 2013. The organization’s report concluded that “the District has a higher per capita arrest rate, greater racial disparity in marijuana possession arrests, and spends more money in marijuana enforcement than almost any other state or county in the country.” Between 2001 and 2010, arrests for marijuana possession increased by 61.5 percent. The number of marijuana arrests in D.C. in 2010, 5,393, surpassed those in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Miami-Dade counties in 2010. And in 87 percent of cases involving marijuana arrests, charges for separate crimes were not made.
Nevertheless, Lanier’s latest stance may be attributed to growing support of marijuana legalization. “It’s been demonstrated that ending marijuana prohibition has the support of the vast majority of D.C. residents who the chief is supposed to be serving. Regardless of personal opinion, from a political standpoint, she may just realize that this is the direction D.C. voters are heading and it wouldn’t be smart to stand in the way of that,” Angell told ThinkProgress.
Last year’s ballot initiative to legalize pot won by a 40 percent margin (70–30). Marijuana was decriminalized last year, replacing potential jail time with a $25 fine, and many view legalization as the next logical step. At the national level, the Pew Research Center found that 52 percent of all Americans support legalization. Support of legalization even extends to many law enforcement officials, such as the members of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), who believe that the war on drugs causes more harm than good.
Still, legalization still has to clear one major hurdle before it can go into effect: Congress. A congressional review period expires on February 26, before which legislators on the Hill can pass a resolution of disapproval. And the city has already entered into a heated battle with Congress over its move to block city funding for pot legalization.
Watch the interview below: