Chris Hayes recently did a segment on his nightly show in which he discussed the Marijuana decriminalization bill currently before the DC City Council. I have discussed this issue in depth in a previous post. Hayes did his usual professional job of discussing the bill before falling into the error of believing the bill's backers' propaganda (also known as drinking the Kool-Aid).
Hayes mentioned that the bill would decriminalize simple possession of Marijuana and that the proponents of the bill claim they have the 10 votes to override a mayoral veto if it comes. He did not mention that the police department supports this bill and that the police make 9.000 arrests each year for simple possession. I estimate that each arrest nets the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) $8,500. So 9,000 completely useless arrests net the MPD up to $76 million a year. 1 Another way to put that is that the MPD receives $76 million from the city and taxpayers of DC for its activities arresting people for simple possession of marijuana. Any way you put it, that's a lot of wasted money.
The MPD has a substantial vested interest in maintaining the status quo, and they support decriminalization, not legalization. While questioning the Police representative at the hearing, Marion Barry brought out the point that while possession might be legal, possession for sale would still be a felony, and possession for sale could apply to any amount of marijuana, even a single joint. So decriminalization would open up a different way for DC Police to harass its citizens: by charging a person with possession for sale, the police would still get a felony arrest and the individual arrested would still be injected into the court system.
Furthermore, there would still be a fine of $100 for simple possession of marijuana. Many, if not most, of the people arrested by the police for possession are poor. For them, a fine that steep would be difficult to pay, and there they are injected into the criminal justice system again.
I applaud Chris for bringing this issue to the attention of the public. He should also discuss the merits of legalization, which could save the city more than $76 million a year, because incarceration of convicted users comes from the Department of Corrections, not the police department.
1. The figure of $76 million is based on the total budget of the MPD, $410 million in 2012, divided by the number of arrests (48,000), then multiplied by the number of arrests for simple possession of drugs. This is a very rough estimate, yet it still does not include the costs of incarceration for people who are imprisoned for simple possession.