African Americans in the District of Columbia are arrested for illicit drug offenses at significantly higher rates than those of other ethnicities, according to an analysis of non-juvenile arrests for the years 2009 to 2011 by the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.
The report, entitled 'Racial Disparities in Arrests in the District of Columbia, 2009-2011: Implications for Civil Rights and Criminal Justice in the Nation's Capital,' found that African Americans comprised nearly 90 percent of all District drug possession arrests. District police made far fewer drug possession arrests in neighborhoods that consisted of mostly white residents than they did in neighborhoods that consisted of mostly black residents. By contrast, survey data shows little disparity in overall illicit drug use rates among whites and blacks residing in the District.
Marijuana arrests were the most commonly reported illicit drug arrest the study found. Under Washington, DC law, simple marijuana possession is classified as a criminal misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
A previous study by the American Civil Liberties Union, released in June, reported that nationwide blacks are approximately four times as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana possession offenses.
Authors of the latest study recommend that District policymakers make it "an immediate priority" to consider decriminalizing or legalizing certain illicit substances, including cannabis.
Legislation is presently pending before the DC Council that would reduce the penalties for marijuana possession offenses involving up to one ounce of marijuana to a $100 civil violation. Nine of the 13 members of the Council are co-sponsoring the measure.
Survey data released in April by Public Policy Polling reported that 75 percent of DC voters favor such a change in law.