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Drug Free Zones in the District of Columbia

Drug free zones, as authorized in the Secure DC Omnibus Emergency Amendment Act of 2024 (“Secure DC”), are designed to address concerns about public spaces in the District of Columbia with persistent illegal drug activity. The Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) is authorized to temporarily designate a specific area as a drug free zone (DFZ) if it meets certain criteria under the law. Within the boundaries of a DFZ, MPD officers are authorized to disperse groups of people congregating in the zone for the purpose of illegal drug activity.

Drug free zones will help MPD address drug-related crime on District streets; allow time for communities to come together to reclaim their public spaces; protect the public from the dangers associated with illegal drug distribution; and improve the quality of life for all.

List of Designated Drug Free Zones

See the list of current and past Drug Free Zones.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a drug free zone?

Under Secure DC, a drug free zone is public space, on public property, from which uniformed MPD officers can require groups of two or more people to disperse if they are congregating for illicit drug activity. The law authorizes the Chief of Police to declare any public area encompassing a maximum of 1,000 feet per side a drug free zone for up to five days.

What’s the purpose of drug free zones?

Residents and businesses are frustrated by the persistent sale and use of drugs, and the violent crime that sometimes accompanies this activity, in some public spaces. Establishing drug free zones authorizes the MPD Chief of Police to implement an effective tool to help communities reclaim their public spaces.

The purpose of the new law is not to make a lot of arrests for violating a DFZ. It’s to disperse illegal activity in drug free zones and, by doing so, give people in a community an opportunity to reclaim public spaces.

What criteria will be used to designate a drug free zone?

The details are set forth in the law and MPD policy. Briefly, MPD will analyze crime and arrest data, and any other objective evidence and verifiable information that illegal drugs are being sold and distributed in the area. That includes data regarding arrests for illegal drug activity and the incidence of homicide and other dangerous and violent crimes in the area.

What exactly is illegal in a drug free zone?

It is unlawful for any person to congregate in a group of two or more people within the perimeter of a DFZ for the purpose of possessing, manufacturing, distributing, or possessing with intent to manufacture or distribute illegal drugs (Title IV of the Controlled Substances Act), and fail to disperse after being instructed to by a uniformed MPD officer.

Any person who fails to disperse after being instructed to do so by a uniformed MPD officer who reasonably believes the person is congregating for the purpose of committing an offense under Title IV of the Controlled Substances Act, is subject to arrest.

What does “disperse” mean under the law?

“Disperse” means to depart from the designated drug free zone and not to recongregate within the zone with anyone from the group ordered to depart for the purpose of committing an offense under Title IV of the Controlled Substances Act for the duration of the zone.

After being ordered to disperse, it will be illegal to remain in the zone or to leave and then recongregate anywhere inside the zone for the purpose of conducting illegal drug activity. They will be arrested, without a second verbal warning.

What criteria will an officer use to determine that a group of people are engaging in drug crime?

Officers must consider the totality of the circumstances in determining whether people are congregating for illegal drug activity—for example, observing an exchange of money for small packages; information from a reliable source; or prior drug convictions. It’s important to note that a drug free zone in no way eliminates the requirement that an officer have—and document—reasonable articulable suspicion before making a determination.

How will people know that an area is a drug free zone?

MPD will mark the area with signs posted within and along its borders, to a maximum of 1,000 feet per side. The signs will state the boundaries and effective dates of the zone as well as the prohibited behavior.

What about people going to or coming from a nearby clinic offering medical or social services?

The law is not intended to interfere with social or medical services in or around a drug free zone. To help inform people who may seek the services of a clinic, MPD will notify DC Health, the Department of Behavioral Health, and medical or social services clinics operating within or adjacent to a zone regarding the establishment of the DFZ.

What’s the penalty for violating the law?

The penalty for failing to disperse when ordered to do so is a maximum fine of $300, maximum imprisonment of 180 days, or both.