D.C. police cite five for marijuana possession in first week of new law

District police officers issued five civil citations for marijuana possession in the week after a new law went into effect that erased criminal sanctions for holding one ounce or less of the drug, according to D.C. police.

Officer Araz Alali, a police spokesman, cautioned that the numbers are preliminary and subject to change.

It’s not clear how enforcement under the new law compares to past trends. District police officials could not immediately say how many marijuana possession arrests officers typically used to make in a day or week.

Alali said that four of the $25 citations were issued in the Seventh District, which covers Anacostia, Barry Farm, Naylor Gardens and Washington Highlands, areas east of the Anacostia River with some of the highest concentrations of crime in the District. One citation was issued in the Fifth District, which includes areas such as Trinidad and Brookland.

Advocates for the new law said it was enacted to correct racial arrest disparities and to help people avoid collecting damaging arrest records for low-level offenses. The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs said in a report issued last year that D.C. police made 4,100 marijuana possession arrests in 2011, about 11 a day, and that 62 percent involved black suspects.

D.C. Council Member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), one of the bill’s sponsors, said the numbers show the law seems to be working. “These are five people who will not have an arrest record for having been arrested for possession of marijuana,” Wells said. “They’ll have a ticket. It shows that we don’t approve of it, but we’re not trying to hurt you.”

Arrests are still made for possession more than one ounce of marijuana, for distribution and smoking in public.

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