Report: Total Marijuana Arrests Fall in District of Columbia, But Racial Disparities Persist

Washington, DC: Blacks comprise nearly 90 percent of all people arrested in the District of Columbia on marijuana-related charges, according to an analysis by The Washington Post.

The Post investigation reviewed over 11,500 marijuana-related arrests during the years 2012 to 2019. They reported that prior to 2015 – when the District enacted a municipal initiative depenalizing the private possession and not-for-profit cultivation of small quantities of cannabis – 89 percent of those arrested were Black. Following 2015, the total number of marijuana-related arrests fell significantly. However, among those arrested for cannabis-related violations, racial disparities continued to persist. In 2018, the most recent year for which data was available, 89 percent of those arrested for marijuana violations were Black. Most of those arrested were between the ages of 18 and 30.

Black Americans comprise 45 percent of the city’s population.

The Post analysis found that almost half of all marijuana-related arrests occurred in Wards 7 and 8, which are among the city’s most predominantly Black neighborhoods. By contrast, fewer than one percent of all arrests occurred in Ward 3, which is predominantly white.

Many of the arrests were specific to charges of public consumption, the report found, and in over half of the cases, prosecutors either refused to file charges or dropped the case.

Analyses of municipal arrest records in other cities, like Albany, New York, have reported similar racial disparities. Nationwide, Black Americans are nearly four times as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana violations, according to data compiled in May by the American Civil Liberties Union.

For more information, see NORML’s Fact Sheet, “Racial Disparities in Marijuana Arrests.”