Council Member Wells Announcing Legislation to Decriminalize Small Amounts of Marijuana in DC

Photo by PoPville flickr user Mr. T in DC

From a press release:

Today, Councilmember Tommy Wells will hold a press conference to announce legislation to decriminalize small amounts marijuana in the District.

WHAT: Wells to Announce Legislation to Decriminalize Marijuana

WHEN: Today, Wednesday, July 10, 8:30AM


According to a recent report by the American Civil Liberties Union, the District of Columbia leads the United States in arrests for marijuana possession. D.C. police made 846 such arrests per 100,000 residents in 2010. Nationally that number was 256 per 100,000.

The same report found that DC was among the top ten jurisdictions in the country for the highest number of Black arrests for marijuana possession. D.C. police arrested 4,648 African Americans for marijuana possession in 2010 compared to only 467 Caucasians.

@timcraigpost tweets from the press conference:

“CM Tommy Wells announces plan to decriminalize up to ounce of marijuana. Those caught will receive $100 civil fine.”

48 Comment

  • Kyle: George toked weed, man?

    Slater: Absolutely George toked weed, are you kiddin’ me, man? He grew fields of that stuff, man, that’s what I’m talkin’ about. Fields.

    Kyle: He grew that shit up Mount Vernon, man.

    Slater: Mount Vernon, man? He grew it all over the country, man. He had people growin’ it all over the country, you know. The whole country back then was gettin’ high. Lemme tell you, man, ’cause he knew he was onto somethin’, man. He knew that it would be a good cash crop for the southern states, man, so he grew fields of it, man. But you know what? Behind every good man there is a woman, and that woman was Martha Washington, man, and everyday George would come home, she would have a big fat bowl waiting for him, man, when he come in the door, man, she was a hip, hip, hip lady, man.

  • How does this help him win the election, exactly?

      • He’s running for Mayor. bb is assuming this is a tactic to win more votes. I agree. Pretty lame tactic too (but I do support the decriminalization of marijuana).

        • I believe that’s called politics.

        • How is this a “pretty lame tactic”? There’s mass public support for such measures. If he can get the word out, I’m guessing he could get quite a few votes as a result. Seems like a prudent move to me.

        • hahahaha. i love it when people say that politicians supporting something that people want is just a tactic to win votes.

          or an example of democracy actually working.
          personally, i’d rather our politicians be servants than leaders.

  • yeah buddy!

  • andy

    Decriminalization is, broadly speaking, a very, very good idea for the criminal justice system and the people of DC. That said, transparent claims to generic overall medical value to the typical person, e.g., “#1 Medical Treatment,” above, just make me roll my eyes.

    • Agreed. De-criminalization is a good idea, but sometimes pot activists do more harm to their cause than anyone.

  • This meeting really should be scheduled for 4:20 PM.

  • Hey now! The age of Aquarius is finally upon us.

  • Don’t worry, you’ll still be able to be arrested by any of the following that still have jurisdiction over all or many parts of the city given that we are a federal district: National Park Police (jurisdiction within certain zone of all national parks.. which is pretty much most parks in DC), Capitol Hill Police (jurisdiction within a zone of most of Capitol Hill, FBI, DEA, Amtrak Police, Metro Transit Police, Secret Service Police… am I forgetting any?

    • Last time I checked, there was a Government Printing Office police, but their jurisdiction is probably a small part of N. Capitol St.

      You do raise a good point. Given the federal government’s treatment of marijuana clinics in CA, I can’t imagine them ignoring the low-hanging fruit of pot smokers on federal property. Say, like Meridian Hill/Malcom X Park. If you think that they treat the skateboarders roughly, just wait.

    • I’m pretty sure that FBI and DEA isn’t out there arresting folks for dime bags.

      • Probably not, but for some of those other agencies, absolutely. I’ve seen the uniformed division of the Secret Service do traffic stops for routine offenses on DC streets (generally in NW near embassies, but not always right in front of one), and the Metro Transit, Capitol and US Park Police forces do enforce petty crimes within their jurisdictions. The issue would be what the crime is. If possessing small amounts of marijuana in DC isn’t a crime any more, then there’s nothing to arrest for. But on US Park property, I’m pretty sure it would still be a crime. Metro property too.

        • It is a federal crime everywhere in the U.S., so federal law enforcement agencies can arrest you under federal laws. Local laws “decriminalizing” marijuana only apply to local authorities. If enough localities decriminalize, perhaps the feds will follow, but we are still a long ways from that happening.

      • Maybe not, but the Park Police will arrest you.

    • Don’t want to get arrested in these places? Smoke at home!

      • I don’t think they are complaining about potentially getting arrested, they’re just making the point that this law would have a rather limited impact.

        • I disagree that this law would have a limited effect. I don’t have hard numbers right in front of me, but I imagine that the VAST majority of petty possession arrests are made by MPD. Can’t imagine that too many lower-income folks disproportionally targeted by the current laws spend much time toking on Embassy Row. This point made by OP above is quite the red herring.

  • This is great! Bravo for taking a sensible step to move this city forward. This will be fought by corporations / the industrial prison complex with everything they have but will ultimately be a victory for the people of DC. No more ruining people’s lives for something that doesn’t harm anyone.

  • This is not great for the city and ridiculous policy. We have thousand of federal agents and law enforcement folks risking their lives everyday trying to stop marijuana from entering the USA and from being distributed. We need to change federal policy and enforcement first or we are wasting money and endangering lives.

    • You seem to be conflating things here. Arresting end-users for small amounts of marijuana is clearly NOT effective in diminishing demand.

    • epric002

      please explain how this is “not great for the city”. how does this policy affect national efforts directed towards trafficking and distribution? the proposed legislation deals only with small amounts for personal possession. changes to state laws will, over time, influence federal law. the war on drugs has been a total waste of money and resources; nothing will change that.

    • actually, legalizing the production of marijuana in the us would save agents lives, not to mention the lives of mexicans.

  • “The same report found that DC was among the top ten jurisdictions in the country for the highest number of Black arrests for marijuana possession. D.C. police arrested 4,648 African Americans for marijuana possession in 2010 compared to only 467 Caucasians.”

    Explain how this stat is relevant? Is the implication that police are targeting African Americans for pot arrests? Is it possible that use rates are different among statistical groups? Or that some statistical groupings tend to smoke at home while others in less secure areas?

    This seems to bring race into an issue that has nothing to do with race. #petpeeve

    • Actually, you’re wrong. The rates of marijuana use among whites and blacks are nearly exactly the same in every state across the country, including DC. Blacks are simply arrested more often & prosecuted for it.

      How it works for white people: you’re less likely to be randomly stopped & frisked or have your car searched than a black person. Furthermore, those white who are caught with marijuana tend to be “given a verbal warning”, a “stern lecture”, and have the marijuana confiscated by the officer. If you’re black, you’re not given the “warning” but are simply arrested.

      So yes, race is VERY much the main issue at play here. I’m sorry you’re not comfortable confronting the massive racial disparities in our society – however, you’re alone in having difficulty swallowing that bitter pill. There’s plenty of otherwise “liberal” whites in this town who want to pretend like we moved beyond race.

    • you really don’t understand the racism in the judicial system?

    • Doc, maybe you shouldn’t have toked through all those sociology classes?

      • I was too busy taking real classes in college. Never took sociology 😉

        So if you know you might get pulled over for “Driving While Black” why would you have weed in the car? This is not rocket science: SMOKE IN YOUR HOME.

        I’m not against pot use, but at least be smart about it.

        Also, I’d like to see the documentation that whites are given a stern warning more frequently than blacks. Not saying it doesn’t exist, I’ve just not seen a citation.

        • “Now, if you want to argue that people shouldn’t be smoking marijuana in the first place, that’s a perfect reasonable position to take.”

          Meant to say smoking outside of your home.

        • We clearly have different opinions of “well documented.” The underlying study cited here does not make the point you are making (did you read it, or did you just read the city paper articles?)

          Just because the same proportions of blacks and whites smoke and the differences in arrest rates cannot be tied to the types of neighborhoods, does not mean race itself is the only other explanation.

          My underlying point is that race should not be a driving factor behind the decison to decriminalize pot.

        • Doc, I’m going paraphrase a great quote from a brilliant woman, the law professor Michelle Alexander:
          “If young white men and women were arrested and incarcerated for petty drug offenses at the same rate as young black men and women, our politicians would declare this a national emergency.”

          As a white male, I strongly encourage you to read her new book, “The New Jim Crow.” The facts are plain as day. This is all about uneven application of the law based solely on race. The fact of the matter is that police have racist motivations for who they arrest, the legal system works against minorities by giving them longer prison sentences than white for the same crime, and prisons mete out punishments according to race.

          I think using race as the reason to take this law off the books is totally appropriate.

  • The worst experience I ever had with cannabis was spending 5 years in
    Federal Prison for a marijuana offense.

    I wrote about the escapades that led to my imprisonment. The book:

    Shoulda Robbed a Bank

    It’s available at I would be honored by your review.

  • This is reason enough to vote for Wells, particularly in the absence of other good candidates. I actually support decriminalization of all illegal drugs. I don’t see the point of criminalizing nonviolent drug offenses. That doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be ramifications for drug offenses as the Wells bill specifies.

  • any idea what the stats are on usage between blacks and whites? i’m curious how far off the number of arrests are versus people who actually use it, since that’s a much more telling trend.

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