Most D.C. Marijuana Citations Go Unpaid
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Most D.C. Marijuana Citations Go Unpaid
Posted by CN Staff on January 27, 2015 at 06:12:48 PT
By Andrea Noble, The Washington Times
Source: Washington Times
Washington, D.C. -- D.C. police have written more than 250 tickets for marijuana possession in the roughly six months since the District relaxed its marijuana laws, but the vast majority of citations have simply been ignored, an analysis by The Washington Times has found.From July 17 through Jan. 7, the Metropolitan Police Department issued 251 tickets for marijuana possession, with 47 percent issued to people in the department’s Seventh District, which lies east of the Anacostia River and includes some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
An analysis of the adjudication of five months’ worth of marijuana tickets shows that violators are ignoring the penalties — with an estimated 70 percent failing to pay the $25 fine. Such widespread noncompliance was predicted early on by police, noting that the decriminalization law doesn’t provide any enforcement mechanism.“When the proposed legislation was discussed in Council, MPD advised that there was likely to be a low compliance rate with civil violations for which an individual has no property interest or privilege to protect — such as real property, a professional license or a driver’s license,” said police spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump. “There is no follow-up mechanism for nontraffic civil violations, such as the marijuana or littering tickets, as individuals are not required to provide proof of identity when they receive a ticket.”The District’s marijuana decriminalization, which went into effect July 17, replaces criminal penalties for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana with a civil violation and a $25 fine. Smoking marijuana in public remains an arrestable offense.The city’s Office of Administrative Hearings provided details about the adjudication of 225 of the 251 tickets — all of those issued through Dec. 22.An analysis of those 225 tickets shows that 88 tickets were still considered open by the city (violators have 14 days to respond to tickets). However, of the 137 remaining tickets, 96 tickets — or 70 percent of the closed tickets — have gone unpaid and are considered outstanding, with the fine doubling to $50.Violators have paid the fine in 29 cases, another six tickets were dismissed, five were listed as “rejected,” and one was challenged and overturned, according to the Office of Administrative Hearings.D.C. Council member David Grosso, a proponent of marijuana legalization, would rather see the civil fines done away with altogether. But he says the notion that the council has enacted laws the city can’t enforce is bothersome.“I think government falls apart if you don’t enforce the rules you put in place,” said Mr. Grosso, at-large independent. “If we’re going to put these kinds of penalties in place, then I think we need to put something in place to enforce them.”The fate of a ballot initiative passed in November that legalizes the possession, but not the sale, of marijuana remains uncertain as local leaders and federal lawmakers argue over the legality of whether the measure can take effect. Congress has since approved a budget bill that includes language banning the city from spending money to loosen its drug laws. The federal government still outlaws the use, possession, production and sale of marijuana.Ticket or arrest?In the meantime, if decriminalization remains the new norm for law enforcement, ticketing and arrest data show that the effects of the new set of marijuana laws are not being felt evenly across the District.Marijuana-related arrests are way down from previous years, with MPD reporting 233 such arrests from July 17 through Jan. 7, compared to a total of 5,759 marijuana arrests in 2011. But whether marijuana users face arrest for public use or a ticket for possession varies depending on where in town they are stopped.The most civil fines for marijuana possession — 118 tickets — were written in MPD’s Seventh District.For police to issue a ticket for marijuana possession, officers first must observe someone with the drug. It’s a scenario that most often plays out when officers already have stopped a person for another reason, according to police.“Roughly half of the tickets are being issued when officers find the marijuana in a search of an individual arrested for a different offense,” said Ms. Crump, the police spokeswoman.Arrests for marijuana consumption in public, on the other hand, tend to occur after police receive a complaint, she said.Arrests for smoking marijuana happen most frequently in MPD’s Third District — which includes nighttime hot spots such as the U Street corridor. From July 17 through Jan. 7, police made 58 out of a total of 99 arrests for marijuana consumption in the Third District.“These arrests are based on officer observation, which may be preceded by a call for service for the issue,” Ms. Crump said.Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said that even before decriminalization took effect, police did not actively pursue many marijuana possession charges.“Officers for the last 20 years have avoided possession of marijuana arrests because they’ve not been prosecuted for many, many years,” Chief Lanier said Tuesday on NewsChannel 8’s “NewsTalk with Bruce Depuyt.” “It was a waste of time for officers to make possession of marijuana arrests.”A police ‘tool’For marijuana users, ticketing under decriminalization has been a welcome alternative.Police seem to be using the civil citations as a way to issue a warning to those they find smoking in public, said Adam Eidinger, head of the pro-marijuana legalization group the D.C. Cannabis Campaign.“I’ve talked to three different people who were stopped for smoking in public, and all three said they were given tickets,” Mr. Eidinger said. “I feel like [police] are using a lot of discretion in public use.”Who is being stopped for marijuana violations, and where they are being stopped, are questions of great interest to local activists seeking to ensure that the new laws are not being enforced in a biased manner. The D.C. Council approved decriminalization as a way to end arrests that had been affecting black residents disproportionately.Seema Sadanandan, policy and advocacy director for the ACLU of the Nation’s Capital, said police tactics such as stop-and-frisk and pretextual traffic stops are used more widely in some police districts as a means to identify potential criminal activity.“We suspect that these aggressive tactics produce the higher rates of marijuana arrests in some areas of the District,” Ms. Sadanandan said. “If you stop enough people, a certain percentage in any neighborhood is going to possess marijuana, and I think that is what the high numbers of citations in certain police districts represent.”Data provided by the Office of Administrative Hearings does not list the age or race of those who received civil citations.A report by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee found that in 2011, about 56 percent of all the city’s drug arrests occurred in three wards — with 18 percent being made in Ward 8, which overlaps the MPD’s Seventh District.“I think that the heavy concentration of citations in Ward 8 and areas downtown are an indicator of high levels of police contact and subsequent ‘consent’ searches in which people reveal their possession of small amounts of marijuana,” Ms. Sadanandan said. “These incidents of marijuana possession are likely the tip of the iceberg in terms of police contact and searches in the District’s black communities.”Despite assurances by Chief Lanier that marijuana enforcement is not a police priority, Mr. Grosso expressed concern that officers will continue to use decriminalization as a means to stop and detain people.“The thing I was always worried about with [decriminalization] is that it’s still a tool in the tool belt of police to get in somebody’s business on the street,” he said. “I think the police will use every tool that they have.”Source: Washington Times (DC)Author: Andrea Noble, The Washington Times Published: January 27, 2015Copyright: 2015 News World Communications, Inc. Website: letters washingtontimes.comURL: -- Cannabis Archives 
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Comment #2 posted by Hope on January 27, 2015 at 12:52:42 PT
Mr. David Grosso, Council member, is correct.
“The thing I was always worried about with [decriminalization] is that it’s still a tool in the tool belt of police to get in somebody’s business on the street,” he said. “I think the police will use every tool that they have.”
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Comment #1 posted by schmeff on January 27, 2015 at 10:29:56 PT
Fining for Whining
Most anti-cannabis legislation is merely the triumph of bullying busybodies who have succeeded in prohibiting something they disapprove of, or don't like themselves. As this article points out, many marijuana citations are the result of complaints filed by other citizens. There are surely culture war issues at work: older folks who just don't like "hippies" and the cannabis aspect is mostly associational, but mostly it's just folks who think everything they disapprove of should be a crime.I'd like to see the current situation reversed, where the citation is issued to the arrogant, judgmental whining crybaby who insists that their own standards and beliefs are more important than everyone else's. 
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