One year after the passage of Initiative 71, a ballot measure that legalized the possession, growth and use of marijuana in the District of Columbia, marijuana-related crimes are down 99.2 percent from last year.
Nov. 4 marked the first anniversary of the legislation that allows individuals over the age of 21 to possess and transport two ounces or fewer of marijuana and grow up to six marijuana plants at one time within the interior of their principal residence. However, they cannot keep more than three mature marijuana plants at a single time. Smoking in public is still illegal, as is smoking on federal land.
According to the Metropolitan Police Department, there have been seven arrests for marijuana-related crimes as of Nov. 6, down 99.2 percent from 2014’s 895 arrests. The data indicate a sharp decrease in marijuana arrests in the five years since 2010, with 2,161 arrests in 2010, 2,346 in 2011, 1,553 in 2012 and 1,215 in 2013.
MPD Chief Cathy Lanier emphasized the strong public support for legalizing marijuana and its positive impact.
“Seventy percent of the public supported [Initiative 71],” Lanier said in a February 2015 interview with The Daily Beast after the initiative was officially implemented. “All those arrests do is make people hate us.”
Georgetown University Police Department Chief Jay Gruber discussed the positive effects of the new law on police department strategies in general.
“Because of the law, we’ll probably be arresting less people. And as a result, the criminal justice system won’t be as backlogged,” Gruber said. “Another way to look at it from a police perspective, we won’t be spending as much time processing criminals. In general, a lot of police departments spend a lot of time arresting people for small amounts of marijuana.”
Gruber stressed that Initiative 71 responded to the will of the people, with the legalization of marijuana reflecting what the public thought to be a fair policy.
“I think people don’t like it when the police enforce laws that people feel are unfair. It’s obvious that the residents of the District of Columbia thought that this law was unfair,” Gruber said.
According to McCourt School of Public Policy professor Mark Rom, marijuana culture in D.C. has not seen drastic changes since the introduction of Initiative 71.
“Are more people using pot now that it’s legalized? I’m guessing probably not,” Rom said.
Rom compared the current ban on drinking in public to the former ban on marijuana smoking and discussed how race also affects both drinking and marijuana use in public.
“Let me note that drinking in public is also illegal, but … the National Symphony plays at the Capitol on the west front of the Capitol, on the Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Labor Day. If you’re a white person down there with a picnic blanket and a couple bottles of wine, you will never be hassled by the police,” Rom said. “So that is a case where I’m thinking I’m really glad that those who are not as old and affluent and white can also live their lives without being hassled and arrested by the police.”
Despite broader legalization in D.C., marijuana is still banned on Georgetown’s campus, a policy Gruber maintained is necessary for the university.
“The university receives federal funding, marijuana is still considered criminal under federal law, so we still have to enforce the marijuana laws on campus,” Gruber said. “Although we can no longer arrest for small amounts, we still do refer students to student conduct.”
Gina Kim (SFS ’18) said the school has a right to regulate marijuana on campus, although she is in favor of legalization in the District.
“Because marijuana is legal in D.C., I think that regulation of it should be similar to alcohol,” Kim said. “There are places on campus that are dry and alcohol is not allowed in these places but it is allowed in others. This is the way I think marijuana should be.”
Rom had a somewhat different take on why he felt that marijuana should be banned on campus.
“I think that Georgetown should still have a no-pot-smoking policy on campus. … I don’t want it to be enforced with draconian stringency, but I think our student population is better off the less we drink, the less we smoke,” Rom said. “I like pot. … So, you know, count me in the personal pro-pot-using community. Nonetheless, I don’t think it’s a good thing for us, by and large.”
Outside of the District of Columbia, marijuana is now legal in 20 states, including Colorado and Oregon.