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D.C. Police Chief Says Marijuana Decriminalization Makes Police Jobs Easier

Her comments contradict ACLU findings, but her latest stance gives support to the marijuana legalization side.

Photo by Ian Sane, via Flickr

Washington, D.C.’s police chief believes that if marijuana possession is legalized it will save officers time and energy. In an interview with NewsChannel 8, Chief Cathy Lanier said, “Marijuana possession has never been a big arrest category. If you’re arrested for possession of marijuana, typically we get it because there’s some other charge and then we find the marijuana in a search upon arrest.”

According to Lanier, possession has led to few arrests in the past few years, since people are rarely prosecuted. Furthermore, “It saves us from having to charge someone for small amounts of marijuana now, because it really never was productive to begin with. It’s a little bit easier for us, actually.”

However, Marijuana Majority Chairman Tom Angell remarked that Lanier’s claim regarding marijuana arrests contradicts an ACLU investigation from 2013. In the report, the ACLU found that there were 5,393 marijuana arrests in D.C. in 2010, an average of 15 pot busts a day. As a result, D.C. surpassed the number of arrests in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Miami-Dade counties and had the highest marijuana arrest rate in the U.S. The report concluded that “the District has a higher per capita arrest rate, greater racial disparity in marijuana possession arrests, and spends more money in marijuana enforcement than almost any other state or county in the country.”

What’s also important to note, and something that directly contradicts Lanier’s statements, is that in 87 percent of cases involving marijuana arrests, charges for separate crimes were not made.

Regardless, Lanier’s latest stance can potentially be seen as a step towards the support of marijuana legalization. And growing public support could have influenced her change of heart; the Pew Research Center found that 52 percent of all Americans support marijuana legalization.

“It’s been demonstrated that ending marijuana prohibition has the support of the vast majority of D.C. residents who the chief is supposed to be serving. Regardless of personal opinion, from a political standpoint, she may just realize that this is the direction D.C. voters are heading and it wouldn’t be smart to stand in the way of that,” Angell told ThinkProgress.

Many law enforcement officials, some including former narcotics officers and police chiefs, also support marijuana legalization and have founded an organization called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). They believe that the war on drugs causes more harm than good.

You can also read more about the complexities of marijuana legalization here.

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