Letter to the Editor

D.C. marijuana laws ruin lives and need to change

Responding to the American Civil Liberties Union’s report about marijuana arrests, D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier made some excellent points [“The D.C. police aren’t waging ‘war’ on pot users,” Local Opinions, June 23]. Hindering large portions of the population because of minor arrests does weaken the community. We understand that police only enforce laws. That’s why we don’t call on the police to stop enforcing the law; we call on the D.C. Council to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Chief Lanier identified one error in our report: Fifty-four percent of arrests in 2010 for marijuana possession involved no other criminal charge; we reported 87 percent, and we regret the error. But 54 percent still amounts to more than 2,600 arrests by our count. How does it make sense to saddle thousands of D.C. residents each year with the lifelong consequences of arrest and conviction for possessing small amounts of marijuana?

Chief Lanier didn’t dispute other facts in our report — that most marijuana arrests are for possession of small amounts, that marijuana arrest rates in the District increased 61.5 percent between 2001 and 2010, that marijuana arrest rates are far higher in the District than in other metropolitan counties and that a staggering 91 percent of all 2010 marijuana arrests in the District involved black people.

These facts should be unacceptable to the people of the District. Decriminalization of personal possession of small amounts of marijuana is the only effective way to change them.

Arthur B. Spitzer, Washington

The writer is legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation’s Capital.

 
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