Marijuana Arrests Persist Amid Legalization

Hundreds of demonstrators rally at 20th Street and Massachusetts Ave in northwest D.C. in support of federally legalizing marijuana and in protest of Sen. Jeff Sessions, newly elected President Trump's pick of attorney general, on Jan 20. (Travis Riddick/The Washington Informer)
Hundreds of demonstrators rally at 20th Street and Massachusetts Avenue in northwest D.C. in support of federally legalizing marijuana and in protest of Sen. Jeff Sessions, newly elected President Trump's pick for attorney general, on Jan 20. (Travis Riddick/The Washington Informer)

National perceptions of marijuana are shifting.

A recent CBS News poll showed a record-breaking 61 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana, with seniors over the age of 65 being the only age group to oppose its legalization.

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker introduced a measure that would remove the drug from the list of controlled substances, allow people that are serving jail time for marijuana-related offenses to be re-sentenced, and expunge federal marijuana-related convictions in an effort to reverse the effects that the war on drugs had on minority and poor communities.

But the District faces its own problems with the drug. Arrests for public consumption of marijuana nearly tripled in the year following its decriminalization in the city.

“We have boundaries, but everyone doesn’t respect boundaries,” said Uneeda Nichols, a Southeast resident who runs a catering business that offers cannabis-infused selections.

Nichols said she sees many people in her neighborhood using marijuana in public and attributes the act to lack of education about the city’s laws.

In November 2014, D.C. voters approved Initiative 71, legislation that decriminalized marijuana in the city, and it became law in February 2015.

Since the law took effect, adults 21 and older in the District are legally allowed to possess two ounces or less of marijuana; transfer one ounce or less of marijuana to another person who is at least 21, so long as there is no payment made or any other type of exchange of goods or services; cultivate up to six marijuana plants in their private residences, with no more than three mature plants per mature adult in a household; possess marijuana-related paraphernalia; and use marijuana on private property.

The law, however, does not legalize recreational weed growth or consumption in public, meaning use of the drug in public areas is still illegal. Operating a vehicle under the influence of the drug and selling it also remain illegal under the law.

In 2016, arrests for public use in the city reached 402 up from 142 arrests in the previous year when marijuana use became legal in D.C. Arrests for distribution also increased in 2016 to 220, up from 80 the previous year.

“We have to promote responsible use,” said Adam Eidinger, co-founder of DCMJ and leader in the legalization efforts in the District.

He says all users in the city should abide by the law, though his group uses marijuana for “political purposes.”

An individual arrested for using marijuana publicly faces up to 60 days in prison or a $500 fine if convicted. Individuals arrested for selling marijuana faces six months in jail or a $1,000 for a first offense. Restaurants or business owners that allow patrons to use marijuana could lose their business license and certificate of occupancy.

Eight states and D.C. have legalized recreational marijuana. In five of those states, weed can be bought in stores.

Congressional interference prevents D.C. from enacting any regulatory framework for the sale or taxation of the marijuana, which is why it cannot be sold or taxed in the city.

Twenty-nine states and D.C. have medical marijuana laws in place.

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About Tatyana Hopkins – Washington Informer Contributing Writer 98 Articles
Tatyana Hopkins has always wanted to make the world a better place. Growing up she knew she wanted to be a journalist. To her there were too many issues in the world to pick a career that would force her to just tackle one. The recent Howard University graduate is thankful to have a job and enjoys the thrill she gets from chasing the story, meeting new people and adding new bits of obscure information to her knowledge base. Dubbed with the nickname “Fun Fact” by her friends, Tatyana seems to be full of seemingly “random and useless” facts. Meanwhile, the rising rents in D.C. have driven her to wonder about the length of the adverse possession statute of limitations (15 years?). Despite disliking public speaking, she remembers being scolded for talking in class or for holding up strangers in drawn-out conversations. Her need to understand the world and its various inhabitants frequently lands her in conversations on topics often deemed taboo: politics, religion and money. Tatyana avoided sports in high school she because the thought of a crowd watching her play freaked her out, but found herself studying Arabic, traveling to Egypt and eating a pigeon. She uses social media to scope out meaningful and interesting stories and has been calling attention to fake news on the Internet for years.

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