91% of D.C. Pot Charges Are Filed Against Black People, Only Six Percent Are Filed Against Whites

What racial disparity?


Mr. T in DC / photo on flickr

A few months back I argued that marijuana users in Washington, D.C. are more concerned with the proper etiquette for getting baked than they are with being victims of, or–dare I say it?–accomplices in, the war on drugs. At the time, I argued that even when powerful D.C. denizens were busted for pot offenses, the experience entailed more bark than bite.

What I failed to note in that post is that D.C. police don't extend the courtesy of a blind eye to everyone. Washington City Paper's Rend Smith reports that  

In 2007, a black person was eight times more likely to be arrested for a District marijuana offense than a white person, even though researchers have exposed what any college pot dealer can tell you from the comfort of his Barcalounger: Members of both racial groups consume cannabis at nearly equal rates.

D.C.'s dope divide is just as striking when you zoom out. According to arrest numbers obtained from the Metropolitan Police Department and crunched by a statistician, between 2005 and 2011, D.C. cops filed 30,126 marijuana offense charges. A staggering number of those—27,560, or 91 percent—were filed against African-Americans. Only 2,097 were filed against whites.

Blame-the-victim folklore contends that pot-arrest asymmetries, which show up in various cities around the country, are about blacks smoking outside and getting their pot on street corners. Recent studies contradict that. And if D.C.'s shameful pot disparity was about anything but racial bias, we'd see it narrowing.

Instead, though the number of black and white pot charges filed fluctuated from year to year, reefer charges filed against blacks rose 6 percent and declined 10 percent for whites between 2005 and 2011.

In other D.C. marijuana news, Capital City Care today became the first licensed medical marijuana dispensary in Washington, D.C.