Five years after the legalization of cannabis in Washington, D.C., racial bias is still prevalent in arrests for marijuana-related offenses in the nation’s capital, according to an analysis of police records by the Washington Post. Between 2015 and 2019, nearly 90% of those arrested for cannabis-related crimes in Washington, D.C. were Black, although African-Americans make up only 45% of the city’s population and multiple studies have shown comparable rates of marijuana use among white people and Black people.
In 2014, voters in Washington, D.C. approved Initiative 71, a ballot measure that permitted possession of up to two ounces of marijuana by adults 21 and older. The initiative also allowed adults to gift up to one ounce of weed to other adults and for the home cultivation of up to six cannabis plants. Support for the measure was bolstered by a 2013 report from the American Civil Liberties Union that showed starkly disparate enforcement of the nation’s marijuana laws, including in Washington, D.C. where Black people were eight times as likely as white people to be arrested for possession.
But Republicans in Congress, flexing their power over the city’s budget, blocked Washington from eliminating penalties on public consumption and cannabis sales.