Last week, Washington, D.C. City Councilman Tommy Wells revealed a bill that would decriminalize the recreational use of marijuana in D.C. The Simple Possession of Small Quantities of Marijuana Decriminalization Amendment Act would decriminalize the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana.
Instead of facing the average criminal penalty; incarceration, fines, and criminal probation, the law reduces the penalty of marijuana possession to a civil fine of $100, and anyone issued the fine would not suffer arrest and a strike on their record.
As it stands in D.C., a marijuana possession charge carries with it the hefty maximum penalty of a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail. The national average of marijuana arrests in 2010 was 256 per 100,000 people. Washington D.C.’s 2010 average far surpassed the national average nearly four-fold with 846 arrests per 100,000 people. These numbers surely indicate a gross misallocation of valuable law enforcement resources and illustrate its unfocused prioritization.
The criminal justice system exhausts unnecessary funds and efforts into enforcing marijuana laws. In New York City alone, the city spent $75 million on arrests and incarceration on what were a majority of small possession charges. Most of these charges are brought against young people and these criminal charges could possibly jeopardize prosperity. Across the country in California; however, where marijuana is decriminalized, crime rates, especially among young people, have significantly diminished.
Since California decriminalized marijuana, the state has seen a 20 percent drop in crime among youth from 2010 to 2011, which is the lowest it’s been since 1954. Interestingly, the decriminalization of marijuana seems to have created a ripple effect in the state’s crime rate as a whole. Violent crimes exhibited a 16 percent drop, homicide fell 26 percent, and drug arrests were cut in half. Should the D.C. City Council pass the, a similar trend could likely surge across the nation’s capitol. With the implications the could arise from passing the legislation, marijuana legalization could get some bigger national attention and decriminalization could get some closer and more serious consideration on the federal level.
The United States loses almost $20 billion on marijuana prohibition. A study by the Cato Institute found that the government spends $8.7 billion annually on law enforcement directed toward marijuana prohibition. The study also estimated that another $8.7 billion could be accrued by the government on taxes brought in by legalized and commercialized marijuana.
The loosening of marijuana laws in Washington D.C. has recently been inching its way into municipal law. At the end of July, medical marijuana dispensaries are scheduled to open. The city recently approved the opening of dispensaries and, though stricter than those in California, laws will allow patients to purchase and use medical marijuana.
Joshua de Leon is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire.