Even though cannabis has been legal in Washington D.C. since 2015, arrests have steadily increased over the course of the past few years, according to data that was released by The District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department. Even though the majority of voters and many elected officials in D.C. have indicated that they support a tax and regulate program, Congress has been dragging its feet on implementing one.
According to the records released by D.C. police, arrests for cannabis have risen a surprising 37 percent from 2016 to 2017. Even more surprising is the fact that arrest rates tripled from 2015 to 2016, even though the cannabis plant was technically legal at the time.
Perhaps the biggest reason for the increase in these arrests is the confusing state of laws in the district. Vendors selling merchandise such as clothing and drinks at “pop up events” would gift cannabis to customers, but not directly sell it to them. The law says that cannabis cannot be purchased, but can be gifted. However, since customers would be purchasing other merchandise, police still claim that doing so violates city law.
This grey area enables police to interpret the law in a matter that still resembles prohibition. Low-level possession and home grow arrests have declined overall, but these specific types of arrests at pop-up events are on the rise. These types of arrests would more than likely disappear if adults could legally purchase weed from licensed dispensaries and retail locations.
It is rather infuriating that almost 1,000 people were arrested in D.C. last year for minor cannabis infractions, despite the fact that the people overwhelmingly showed that they favor legalized recreational cannabis. The districted legalized cannabis in 2014, with 65% of voters saying yes to the initiative. Citizens 21 years of age and older can legally possess and gift up to an ounce of marijuana and are legally able to grow up to six plants in their homes.
In addition to the police interpreting the gifting language of the law to make arrests, consuming cannabis in public is also illegal. Thusly, people who live in public housing or rent apartments where they aren’t allowed to consume indoors opt to smoke or vape outside and perhaps unknowingly risk arrest for public consumption, rather than risking eviction. This ridiculous catch-22 for otherwise responsible cannabis users also includes card-carrying medical patients. Clearly, these laws need to be addressed in Washington D.C. immediately – because as it stands right now, the current landscape clearly does not reflect the will of the voters in the area.