Arrests for the public consumption of cannabis in Washington, D.C. almost tripled in 2016, seemingly underscoring the need for adequate social use regulations.
More than 400 people were arrested last year for public cannabis use, according to D.C. police arrest records. That’s up from 142 people in 2015, the year cannabis use – but not its sale – was legalized in the city.
The data shows that arrests for cannabis distribution also almost tripled last year, from 80 in 2015 to 220 in 2016.
D.C. police spokesman Dustin Sternbeck told The Washington Post that the department had “focused its drug enforcement efforts on illegal sales,” which resulted in the hike in distribution-related arrests.
Sternbeck said legalization has led to more arrests for public consumption, despite the fact that smoking outdoors remains illegal.
The news has been met with criticism from certain advocates who say that minorities and people of color were disproportionately targeted.
“A rise in marijuana enforcement, especially at a time of historic and dropping levels of crime in the District, suggests a return to failed practices of over-policing and underserving communities of color,” said Jonathan Smith, executive director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.
Adam Eidinger, head of the advocacy group DCMJ, said only those who own private property can enjoy legal cannabis consumption in D.C.; renters and those in public housing are left out.
“A lot of it is people not realizing they can’t smoke in public,” said Eidinger of the rise in arrests. “A lot of it is people who have no place else to go.”