Despite a study that found the majority of arrests in the District of Columbia are for simple pot possession and that such arrests are racially disproportionate, DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier believes the city’s new decriminalization legislation will not have a big impact on crime in the nation’s capital.  

During a taping of Kojo In Your Community last week, Chief Lanier said “very, very few” individuals actually spend time in jail for possessing minor amounts of cannabis.

“Anybody that spends time in jail for marijuana probably had a pretty good quantity of marijuana, or was arrested for distribution or sale,” Lanier said at National Public Radio Headquarters.

“Marijuana has not been one of those things that you see lengthy jail terms for, at least not since I’ve been in policing here.”

Under the new law, passed March 4 by the DC Council by a vote of 10-to-1, possession of less than an ounce of pot inside a residence has been reduced to a $25 civil fine. Previously, possessing up to an ounce carried a criminal penalty of up to six months in jail and a maximum fine of $1,000. Public consumption remains a crime under the new legislation.

The new District of Columbia decrim law is pending as it awaits review by the US Congress.

Police Chief Lanier’s remarks fly in the face of a study released last July that reported six out of every ten arrests in DC were for low-level pot possession. Further, nine out of every ten people busted for simple weed possession were African-Americans, even though there is scant difference of pot use between whites and blacks. The ACLU reported in June 2013 that DC’s arrest rate for cannabis possession is more than three times that of the national average.  

While Chief Lanier acknowledged the study’s findings in her comments, she avoided confronting the racial disparity and instead placed the arrest rates in an economic context: “The highest correlation between marijuana use and marijuana arrests is poverty – unemployment and education.”