WASHINGTON, D.C. — The District of Columbia Council approved a bill 10-1 Tuesday that decriminalizes possession of small amounts of marijuana in the nation’s capital. D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray has voiced support for the bill and is expected to sign it promptly.
“This is a big step forward for our nation’s capital, as well as our nation as a whole,” said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, which supported the bill. “Clearly, marijuana prohibition’s days are numbered in the United States.”
The measure removes criminal penalties for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana for individuals 18 years of age and older and replaces them with a civil fine of $25, similar to a parking ticket. It also removes penalties for possession of paraphernalia in conjunction with small amounts of marijuana, and it specifies that individuals cannot be searched or detained based solely on an officer’s suspicion of marijuana possession. Public use of marijuana would remain a criminal offense punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a fine of up to $500. Currently, possession of any amount of marijuana is a criminal offense punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
“We should not be saddling people with criminal records simply for using a substance that is less harmful than alcohol,” Riffle said. “Law enforcement resources should be used to address serious crimes, not to arrest and prosecute adults for possessing small amounts of marijuana. Neither the District nor any of the states can afford to continue criminalizing adults for marijuana possession.”
Washington, D.C. has the nation’s highest arrest rate for marijuana possession, according to a report released in June by the American Civil Liberties Union. Blacks accounted for 91% of marijuana possession arrests in the District, and they were eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, despite using marijuana at similar rates. The ACLU’s analysis concluded that enforcing marijuana possession laws, which make up nearly half of all drug offenses, costs the District more than $26.5 million per year.
“The District is moving in the right direction, but a more comprehensive solution to marijuana prohibition is still needed,” Riffle said. “We must address how and where consumers obtain marijuana. Rather than leaving marijuana sales in the hands of drug dealers and cartels, the District should tax and regulate marijuana much like we do alcohol.”