Legislation Urgently Needed After Recent Reports Find that One in Eight African Americans in D.C. are Arrested for Marijuana Possession
Drug Policy Alliance to Testify in Support of Decriminalization and Ask Councilmembers to Take Additional Steps to End Marijuana Prohibition
On Wednesday, October 23rd, at 6:00 PM, the Drug Policy Alliance and other D.C. advocates will join Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) for a press conference at the Anacostia Neighborhood Library to urge D.C. Councilmembers and Mayor Vincent Gray to expedite passage of the "Simple Possession of Small Quantities of Marijuana Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2013 (Council Bill 20-409)." Bill 20-409 would decriminalize the possession of marijuana weighing one ounce or less in the District of Columbia and has received the support of ten out of thirteen Councilmembers. An alternative legislative proposal was introduced in September by Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) that would tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol. This press conference will convene moments before a public hearing on this legislation begins at the same location. The Drug Policy Alliance will offer testimony at an additional hearing that is scheduled to take place at the D.C. Council Chambers on Thursday.
WHAT: Press conference hosted by Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) and advocates, followed by a Public Hearing on marijuana decriminalization
WHEN: Wednesday, October 23rd at 6:00 PM
WHERE: Anacostia Neighborhood Library
1800 Good Hope Road SE
Washington, D.C. 20020
Councilmember Tommy Wells
Makeda Crane, Organizer, Collective Power
Rev. George C. Gilbert, Jr., Holy Trinity United Baptist Church
David Hudgens, Formerly Incarcerated D.C. Resident
Seema Sadanandan, Program Director, ACLU of the Nation's Capital
Grant Smith, Policy Manager, Drug Policy Alliance
Ericka Taylor, Executive Director, DC Fair Budget Coalition
Rev. Kelly D. Wilkins, Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ
Rev. Willie Wilson, Union Temple Baptist Church
Full details of both public hearings are as follows:
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
6:30 - 9:00 p.m.
Anacostia Neighborhood Library
1800 Good Hope Road SE
Washington, D.C. 20020
Additional Public Hearing
Thursday, October 24, 2013
Council Chamber, Room 500
John A. Wilson Building
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20004
A recent poll conducted by Public Policy Polling, and commissioned by the Drug Policy Alliance and Marijuana Policy Project, found three out of four D.C. voters support changing District law to replace criminal penalties for possession of limited amounts of marijuana with a civil fine similar to a traffic ticket. Furthermore, more than 60 percent of D.C. voters in the survey would support a ballot measure similar to those approved by voters in Colorado and Washington in November, which made marijuana legal for adults and directed state officials to regulate and tax marijuana similarly to alcohol. Additionally, a solid majority (54 percent) said that all drug use should be treated as a public health issue and that people should no longer be arrested and locked up for possession of a small amount of any drug for personal use.
Earlier this year, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Washington Lawyers' Committee on Civil Rights and Urban Affairs released reports documenting enormous racial disparities in arrests for marijuana possession in D.C. These reports found that the majority of all drug arrests in the District are for simple possession of marijuana and the vast majority of those arrested are African American. Every year, thousands of people are arrested in the District of Columbia for the possession of marijuana. African Americans in D.C. are eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people - even though government surveys show that both groups use marijuana at similar rates.
"Marijuana possession laws have too often been enforced discriminately towards minorities and the poor; and the arrests have had harmful, lifelong impacts that disenfranchise individuals, families and communities. The effort to decriminalize marijuana is about removing barriers for individuals---the impact on their education, and their opportunities for employment," said Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6).
"This legislation represents a critical first step towards ending failed marijuana prohibition laws that are responsible for the discriminatory arrest of thousands of mostly African Americans in D.C.," said Grant Smith, policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance's Office of National Affairs. "The Drug Policy Alliance applauds the leadership of Councilmember Wells but also urges Councilmembers to eliminate all penalties for marijuana. We are concerned that $100 ticket writers will prioritize residents in the same N.E. and S.E. neighborhoods that have seen the largest share of marijuana arrests and are home to the many of D.C.'s poorest residents."
The Drug Policy Alliance will provide testimony that supports eliminating all civil and criminal penalties for marijuana possession. African Americans, as well as poor residents residing in neighborhoods with a heavy police presence, may be disproportionately issued citations for the possession of marijuana. DPA will also encourage Councilmembers to take legislative action to expunge court records of people who have been previously arrested and/or convicted in the District of Columbia for marijuana possession. Expunging these criminal records retroactively would provide relief from many legal and professional barriers that follow a drug-related arrest or conviction. In its testimony to the Council, DPA will also recommend the decriminalization of the private cultivation of a small amount of marijuana, which would help reduce illegal marijuana sales on D.C. streets and further reduce the criminalization of people who use marijuana.