D.C. Police Chief: Marijuana ‘undoubtedly’ connected to violent crime surge

Robert Contee made his remarks during a press briefing following a series of recent shootings in the city

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Washington D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee said marijuana is “undoubtedly” a factor in the city’s rise in violent crimes during a press briefing Friday.

Contee held the briefing after two individuals were shot near a restaurant in downtown D.C. A shooting also occurred outside of D.C.’s Nationals Park during a baseball game on Saturday, July 17 which left two people hospitalized with gunshot wounds and one injured. The shooters were never found.

“We have taken on a mindset that marijuana is not really a big issue in our city,” Contee said. “I can tell you that marijuana undoubtedly is connected to violent crimes that we are seeing in our communities.”

Police Chief Robert Contee speaks to reporters, with Mayor Muriel Bowser, after a shooting on July 22, 2021 in Washington, DC. Gunfire erupted on a busy street, injuring two and sending others fleeing for safety. A dark sedan was being sought in connection with the shooting and the two injured were expected to survive, according to published reports. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

“When you have something where people get high reward — they can make a lot of money by selling illegal marijuana — and the risk is low, the risk for accountability is very low, that creates a very, very, very bad situation, because those individuals get robbed,” he added. “Those individuals get shot at. Those individuals get involved in disputes all across our city.”

There have been 2,039 violent crimes in D.C. this year as of July 23 according to the city’s government page, roughly equal to the amount of violent crimes in the city by July 23 of last year (2,060) while the city was enforcing stricter COVID-19-related regulations.

Contee said he has personally seen an increase in violent crimes related specifically to marijuana.

“I’m seeing it happen more and more all across our city in all different wards,” he said. “Last year, we had a murder up in Ward 3 on Western Avenue tied to an illegal marijuana pop-up. Here, recently, on North Capital Street, we had another illegal marijuana place that somebody entered into with guns, duct-taped somebody, and put a gun to somebody’s head in there. Unlawful marijuana pop-ups, unlawful distribution of marijuana in communities, that is a bad recipe for disaster.”

He added that local prosecutors are enabling the situation by not holding people accountable when caught with an illegal amount of marijuana, which is over two ounces for individuals over the age of 21 according to D.C. law.

“And again, think about it. People – what is the risk for people? Is there a prosecution that is going to happen?” he asked. “Really, is there a prosecution of a guy with marijuana? I’ve heard some community members saying these guys are keeping scales on them where they’re measuring out their marijuana so that the police are not able to lock them up. That’s something we have to look at as a community.”

Contee is a D.C. native and has been a Metropolitan Police Department officer for the past 31 years according to the Washington Post. He was raised by a 17-year-old father who was a drug dealer himself, and eventually developed an addiction to narcotics including crack cocaine. He said during a press conference in December 2020 that he “knew the smell of marijuana as a young kid.”

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