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Two days before Christmas, D.C. police announced a pair of high-profile arrests: those of the alleged operators of the Kush Gods business, essentially a food truck for weed. They’d charged the two with distribution of marijuana.
According to police, Nicholas Cunningham, 30, and Evonne Lidoff, 18, had been “giving” people pot edibles until law enforcement determined that their model of asking for donations violated the District’s marijuana laws, which currently prohibit any sale of the substance for recreational purposes. Their next court date is scheduled for Jan. 28.
How do their arrests fit into the larger pattern of enforcement for weed distribution?
Data provided by the Metropolitan Police Department shows that the total number of arrests by MPD and other law enforcement officials in D.C. plunged by more than 80 percent between 2010 and 2015, from 1,378 recorded arrests to 234 (as of Jan. 6). The totals provided represent arrests for both possession with intent to distribute and distribution. They’re also based on “unique arrest charges,” so if an individual was arrested for both distribution and possession with intent to distribute, the arrest was only counted once under the more serious distribution charge. MPD notes that the 2015 numbers are “subject to change due to [a] recent database conversion,” so it’s important to take them with a grain of salt. But the decrease is still marked:
The sum of distribution-related arrests across all five years was 5,790: 4,756 for possession with intent to distribute and 1,034 for distribution. Just under half of that total were recored in the first two years in the dataset (49.7 percent). MPD conducted the majority of these arrests, while the U.S. Park Police, Metro Transit Police Department, Capitol Police, the FBI, and a handful other agencies with jurisdiction in the District performed the rest.
“Although selling any amount of marijuana remains illegal, the new marijuana laws changed the standards for evidence for the crimes of distributing and possessing with intent to distribute marijuana,” an MPD spokesperson writes in an email. The laws referred to include a decriminalization act that went in to effect on Jul. 17, 2014, and Initiative 71, the ballot measure that made possessing, growing, and gifting modest amounts of weed legal in 2015.
Those statutes removed the mere smell of marijuana, the possession of less than two ounces of marijuana (or the suspicion thereof), “the possession of multiple containers of marijuana” in itself, and “the possession of marijuana in proximity to any amount of cash or currency” without any other evidence as criteria for “reasonable articulable suspicion.” In other words, if authorities come across someone who has an ounce of marijuana, this can’t be used as a reason to suspect the person has more. Still, an individual caught selling pot in broad daylight could be arrested.
City Desk previously reported that arrests for possession of marijuana hovered around the single digits as of early November 2015, according to MPD, thanks in large part to the passage of these laws. The new numbers shed light on the supply side of the weed equation and suggest distribution-related arrests remain prevalent, but not nearly as common as they once were. For example, their number peaked in 2011 with a total of 1,503, up from 1,378 in 2010.
Adam Eidinger, an advocate for legal marijuana in D.C. who led Initiative 71, says the numbers aren’t surprising.
“The declining arrests for marijuana overall reflect [a] new approach voters approved with Initiative 71,” he writes in an email to City Desk. “There is simply less marijuana being purchased illegally in D.C., while legal medical and home-cultivation supply of marijuana continues to expand. This legal supply reduces demand for illicit marijuana.”
The scope of legal weed has been on residents’ minds this month, as the D.C. Council recently voted to maintain an emergency ban on consuming marijuana in private business venues. Permanent legislation addressing that issue is expected to be marked up by the Committee on the Judiciary soon, and to be voted on by the full body in February.