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D.C. police to shift towards citations over arrests for people caught using marijuana in public

September 22, 2018

Police have revised their policies for arresting people caught using marijuana in Washington, D.C., where the plant is permitted for recreational purposes on private property but not in public.

District officials said Friday that arrests made for “public consumption of marijuana” must be noncustodial, meaning the Metropolitan Police Department will issue citations instead of arresting people caught using pot in public, barring exceptions.

People cited for publicpot use will have 15 days to go to a police station for booking, and from there they will have the option of either paying a $25 fine or taking the issue to court, according to the policy change.

“We cherish the trust we have built between residents and the police. This policy will reduce the number of people who are taken into custody and allow us to better focus our efforts and resources on building a safer, stronger D.C.,” said Mayor Muriel Bowser, Democrat.

People cited solely for using marijuana in public would still be arrested under the policy change if they have outstanding warrants or cannot be positively identified, or if authorities determine the person will skip court or poses a threat to themselves or others, according to the district. Others exempt from the policy change include juveniles and individuals with diplomatic immunity.

Recreational marijuana was legalized in D.C. in 2015, and current law allows adults to possess and grow small amounts of the plant for personal use on private property. Marijuana is federally outlawed, however, and remains illegal on vast sections of the District under government control.

Police more than tripled arrests for public consumption between 2015 and 2017, and 29 percent of the 926 people arrested for marijuana-related crimes last year were charged in connection with non-private use, according to the city’s statistics.

Three-quarters of the people arrested in D.C. for public consumption in 2017 were identified as African-American, evoking a similar racial disparity evidenced by authorities in New York City, where 86 percent of those arrested for public use in 2017 were either black or Hispanic a statistic cited by officials there as their reasoning for recently shifting towards issues citations rather than arrests.

“The dual mission of the Manhattan DA’s office is a safer New York and a more equal justice system,” Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, said when New York City announced a similar policy changes earlier this year. “The ongoing arrest and criminal prosecution of predominantly black and brown New Yorkers for smoking marijuana serves neither of these goals.”

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