Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and Metropolitan Police Department Chief Peter Newsham announced a new policy aimed at reducing the number of Washington, D.C. residents taken into custody for public consumption of marijuana in a Sept. 21 news release.
Under the new policy, arrests made in connection to public marijuana usage, for those who are eligible, will result in field arrest citations — formally referred to as Form PD 61-D — rather than custodial arrests, which involve detention by law enforcement officers.
The change in protocol will allow MPD to allocate time and resources toward other public safety measures, Bowser said in the Sept. 21 news release.
“We cherish the trust we have built between residents and the police,” Bowser said. “This policy will reduce the number of people who are taken into custody and allow us to better focus our efforts and resources on building a safer, stronger D.C.”
Issuing a citation was an option to be used at police officers’ discretion in the past, but the new policy now makes it mandatory to exercise a non-custodial arrest.
The policy will reduce the conflict associated with a marijuana consumption arrest, Executive Director of the MPD Strategic Change Division Kelly O’Meara said in an interview with The Hoya.
“Generally, what is the most problematic in the police interaction is taking somebody into custody, putting the handcuffs on somebody,” O’Meara said. “If we don’t have to do that, if they can just report later, that removes that point of conflict.”
Under the new standard, issuing a citation requires the person under non-custodial arrest to report to a police station within 15 days to complete processing of the field arrest, including booking and fingerprinting. The case can then either end immediately through the payment of a $25 fine or can be taken to court, according to MPD.
While possession charges of marijuana have plummeted since 2013, marijuana distribution charges have increased almost 300 percent in the district since its decriminalization, according to O’Meara. Public consumption charges of marijuana have increased to 265 in 2017 from 99 arrests in 2014.
People who are ineligible for non-custodial arrest for public consumption of marijuana include juveniles, individuals with outstanding warrants and people who may have damaged property or caused injury or harm to themselves or others, according to the Sept. 21 news release.
The announcement of the new policy is the most recent development in the Bowser administration’s campaign to reduce the legal consequences of recreational drug use, an effort that continues a trend toward decriminalization of marijuana in the District.
Marijuana in quantities of one ounce or less for personal recreational use was decriminalized in July 2014 through the Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014. When Bowser tookoffice in 2015, she passed Initiative 71, which legalized the drug in quantities of two ounces or less.
Custodial arrests for marijuana consumption were important to resolve as MPD seeks to improve D.C. residents’ quality of life, O’Meara said.
“One of the things we recognize is we need to be able to prioritize the most serious crimes and work with the community to address what are quality of life issues,” O’Meara said. “The public consumption of marijuana is definitely a quality of life issue and it’s very important to our communities, but we want to make sure that we can resolve the charge in the best manner possible.”