DC’s Legalized Weed Is One-Year Old, And Crime Has Cratered

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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Legalization of marijuana in Washington, D.C., is hitting it’s one year anniversary this weekend and while problems persist, crime rates on the drug are way down.

Possession arrests decreased 98 percent in 2015 from the previous year and overall arrests on any marijuana related charge are down 85 percent. With wide majority support the District legalized the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana for personal consumption February 26, 2015, but have since hit roadblocks in the form of the federal government, reports The Washington Post.

District voters passed the ballot measure in favor of legalization with 70 percent support, however, Congress and District Mayor Muriel Bowser quickly countered to stop further liberalization of the law. Bowser pushed a bill immediately following the passage of the ballot banning any additional use of marijuana outside the home. (RELATED: DC Liberals Are At Each Other’s Throats Over Weed Ban)

Congress added to the swift push-back against the ballot initiative by essentially banning the city from taxing or regulating marijuana in a budget measure. For all practical purposes, the measure prevents the local District government from expanding legalization outside personal home consumption, reports Drug Policy Alliance.

“It is past time for the District to move ahead with a fully regulated system for marijuana,” Bill Piper, Senior Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance said in a press release. “The Council and Mayor should listen to residents and take a stand for District autonomy. The District could earn revenue and use the proceeds for treatment, education, and rebuilding communities devastated by the failed war on drugs.”

Supporters of expanded legalization cite the current situation in D.C. as another example of federal supremacy violating the rights of state and local governments to establish their own laws. Despite various forms of legalization in other states, federal drug raids on businesses that by state law are legal, continue to occur.

The battle in D.C. over legalization also incorporates a racial element, as marijuana bans tend to disproportionately affect black and other minority communities. Despite comparable usage statistics across races, black people accounted for 91 percent of marijuana possession arrests in 2013, reports The Washington Post.

“The decrease in marijuana arrests is an enormous victory for District residents, who have resoundingly rejected the criminalization of marijuana,” said Bill Piper, Senior Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, in a press release. “Marijuana law enforcement has particularly damaged communities of color in the District, who have borne the brunt of prohibition. We hope that law enforcement continues to responsibly enforce the new law and completely eliminates any racial disparity in arrests.”

The next hurdle for the D.C. Council in expanding the scope of legalization comes in the form of marijuana clubs and bars. The council rejected this effort last year but voted unanimously in February to study how the District could implement pot clubs without violating Congress’s ban on regulating the substance. The Council may attempt to subvert congressional rules and control pot clubs through regulations on building codes and hours of operation. (RELATED: DC Council Considers Marijuana Clubs)

“The train is moving — it’s something that can’t be stopped,” Democratic Councilman Vincent Orange told The Washington Post. “The people went through a lawful procedure to get this approved so you have to give the people what they want.”

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