Friday Question of the Day – Do You Believe “possession of under two ounces of marijuana for personal use” should be decriminalized?

Photo by PoPville flickr user Mr. T in DC

Speaking of Kaya:

The Board of Elections shall consider in a public hearing whether the proposed measure “Decriminalization of Possession of Minimal Amounts of Marijuana for Personal Use Act of 2014” is a proper subject matter for initiative, at the Board’s Meeting on Wednesday, September 4, 2013 at 10:30am., One Judiciary Square, 441 4th Street, N.W., Suite 280, Washington DC.

The Board requests that written memoranda be submitted for the record no later than 4:00 p.m., Thursday, August 29, 2013 to the Board of Elections, General Counsel’s Office, One Judiciary Square, 441 4th Street, N.W., Suite 270, Washington, D.C. 20001.

Each individual or representative of an organization who wishes to present testimony at the public hearing is requested to furnish his or her name, address, telephone number and name of the organization represented (if any) by calling the General Counsel’s office at 727-2194 no later than Friday, August 30, 2013 at 4:00 p.m


This initiative would make possession of under two ounces of marijuana for personal use, or a person’s cultivation in their home of no more than three cannabis plants, a civil offense rather than a criminal offense; provide for imposition of civil fines; provide mandatory drug awareness education for minors committing the civil offense; and would prohibit any District of Columbia government agency from denying any opportunity or benefit based on such civil violation.

Those caught would receive a $100 fine. I realize we never polled PoPville when this first came up so here goes:

69 Comment

  • No, I think it should be legalized, but decriminalization is a step in the right direction.

  • marijuana arrests and subsequent criminal history are having a HORRIBLE effect upon the young black male population of dc. everyone who’s on the fence about this should consider what they’d prefer; legal/decriminalized pot or the continued creation of a virtually un-employable underclass of young men.

    • I would like to see some statistics that only marijuana related criminal record convictions are the cause for this, “continued creation of a virtually un-employable underclass of young men.”

      • I hope someone takes the time to thoroughly answer your question but I’d like to ask you; so what if it’s only 40% of the problem? So many lives are being ruined over an issue that a) apparently only half of Americans (sorry for no stat link, I will research this tomorrow) believe should be a crime and b) is unfairly enforced with regards to race (see recent study and NYT/Post articles on marijuana usage and arrest rates by race).

        Does anyone dispute that a marijuana conviction severely limits employment possibilities?

        Morality should be considered but alcohol is legal and imprisoning people doesn’t seem to have worked and the human cost is staggering.

        • This is an argument that I wish marijuana advocates would drop – comparing alcohol legalization to pot. Perhaps ending prohibition was a mistake? The decision is now irreversable, when considering the size and scope of widespread alcohol use/production in the US. A similar slippery slope would exist for if/when marijuana would be legalized. Let’s not make the same mistake twice.

          • “Perhaps ending prohibition was a mistake?” Perhaps not. Perhaps it was a collective decision, learned from recent experience, that people are going to consume alcohol whether or not it’s legal and that the “treatment”–as in the massive uptick in violence and corruption, not to mention the tremendous waste of taxpayer money that could have been used more productively in any number of ways–for society’s so-called alcohol problem is far worse than the disease. Perhaps pearl clutching should be criminalized?

          • You know what, you’re right; the 75K+ deaths per year caused by alcohol abuse is rather insignificant. Easy for you to dispell the benefits forgone from a law repealed before the New Deal. Perhaps ignorance should be criminalized too?

          • Then ban cars too. And swimming pools. People are responsible for their own actions.

          • During prohibition, drinking was not really curtailed. People still drank, but they had to pay more for it, make it themselves. This just led to a huge rise in crime from all the gangsters that had a cash “crop.” Without addressing the underlying demand for these products (alcohol or pot), prohibition policies have shown little effect on consumption rates and only serve to increase the tax payer burden for extra policing and prison sentences.


        “Black Americans were nearly four times as likely as whites to be arrested on charges of marijuana possession in 2010, even though the two groups used the drug at similar rates, according to new federal data.”

        “The cost of drug enforcement has grown steadily over the past decade. In 2010, states spent an estimated $3.6 billion enforcing marijuana possession laws, a 30 percent increase from 10 years earlier.”


        “Black Americans were nearly four times as likely as whites to be arrested on charges of marijuana possession in 2010, even though the two groups used the drug at similar rates, according to new federal data.”

        “The cost of drug enforcement has grown steadily over the past decade. In 2010, states spent an estimated $3.6 billion enforcing marijuana possession laws, a 30 percent increase from 10 years earlier.”

    • Or, “the young black male population” could just follow the law, not smoke pot, and it wouldn’t be a problem for them.

      I live in NE and frequently walk by black guys smoking pot openly in public. They know it’s illegal, but do it anyway. Guess what, there are consequences for being that stupid and I don’t blame the cops or prosecutors for enforcing a law that’s really easy to not violate.

      • Your argument makes sense except for the fact that marijuana use is equal among young black males and young white males. The difference is where they live and how they are targeted by authorities. So you’re not ruining the future career of the rich kid who can smoke behind his dad’s McMansion, just the guy who smokes behind his parents apartment building.

    • You pose this as a true cause and effect relationship: one pot conviction leads to the permanent inability to gain employment. This is false. I am an officer in the military and have had numerous men and women under my charge who have a single arrest for a small amount of pot in their backgrounds. There are likely other convictions and issues at work that make employment difficult. By your logic, we should decriminalize those criminal violations as well.

      • Perhaps it’s not a 100% cause and effect, but in general, employers are becoming extremely selective when in comes to criminal background (and they are empowered to do so in a tight labor market), so yes, just one single conviction–any conviction, not just pot-related, but things like DUI, drunk and disorderly, etc.–can severely limit a person’s employment prospects. Maybe not make it impossible to find a job, but extremely difficult. Job ads that say things like “no convictions” and even “no arrests” are rampant. (See for more info.) A blanket ban on hiring an individual with convictions is actually not lawful (there are specific criteria an employer needs to follow), and the EEOC has started to crack down on this–but in the meantime, that isn’t helpful in the short-term for individuals who have no means to seek legal recourse for being turned down for a job.

    • Perhaps they shouldn’t smoke pot? I doubt that pot is the primary reason said population is unemployed.

  • Wake me up when I can buy it with my EBT card, man!

  • My problem is not with legalization, its with the use of weed in public by folks that are on the government doll and should be out looking for jobs, but instead are looking for munchies

    • My problem is not with the hordes of people “looking for munchies,” it’s the use of “doll” rather than “dole” when complaining about the poors.

  • mtpgal

    I agree with the first comment that it should be decriminalized, but this is a good first step. Of all the altering substances out there, weed is the only one I am aware of that had no known lethal dose. Even caffeine has a lethal dose. It is much safer than alcohol, which a lot of (especially young) people don’t realize has a very small margin between the effective and lethal dose.

    • It is not only safer in the way that you say, the long term health effects of habitual use are much less than alcohol.

      • AND there are actual benefits to long term marijuana use. J.A.M.A. published a study recently showing that over 20 years those that toke up have stronger, healthier lungs and better lung capacity than those who dont smoke anything or smoke cigarettes.

  • It should absolutely be decriminalized, if not legalized. Colorado’s approach of just regulating commercial (large scale) production is the right one (and commercial production should be regulated for safety reasons) – think of homebrew vs. commercial brew.

    The number one reason for legalizing it is that the vast majority of harm from MJ comes from legal prohibition – stop the paramilitarization of the police and stop funding the gangsters. Of course neither will simply disappear, but chipping away at the money stream that feeds both can’t hurt.

    Even more important: MJ drug convictions are one of the most abused tools of selective persecution of citizens.

  • God yes. It’s a waste of time and resources for police to bother with weed (and small amounts of all other drugs) and it’s a waste of people’s lives to punish them criminally for possessing small amounts of drugs.

    Regulation is the answer. If you want to see the future of drug policy, look to tobacco policy which approaches tobacco through the lens of public health. Tobacco is still legal and available but it’s sale and use is restricted.

    Here are the tenants:
    – Protection from exposure to tobacco smoke
    – Regulation of the contents of tobacco products
    – Regulation of tobacco product disclosures
    – Packaging and labeling of tobacco products (health warnings)
    – Education, communication, disclosure, training and public awareness of the harms of tobacco
    – Bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship
    – Demand reduction measures concerning tobacco dependence and cessation
    – Bans on tobacco interests influencing governmental policy on tobacco

  • Dave’s not here, man!

  • I thought you were going to ask if I believe people should wear winter hats in the middle of summer. My response there is a resounding no.

    As for the question posed, I agree with the legalization camp. However, until legalization is properly implemented, I have concerns about low level drug dealing on the streets and the violence it begets. There is a tension here that I am not sure how to resolve. Maybe you say 1 ounce and that if their is some indicia of an intent to distribute you can still be arrested and charged.

  • I think it should be legalized, but please everyone think of your kind neighbors who like to enjoy the nice weather without their apartment smelling like weed. Someone near me in my building like to light up god knows how many times in a day.

  • I think it should be legalized and then we should tax the hell out of it.

  • Happy to see those lined up against decriminalization/legalization armed with nothing but the usual circular logic: “People smoking pot are doing something illegal; therefore, smoking pot should be illegal.”

    I see they should also be “out looking for jobs” instead of smoking pot, without even the barest attempt to make a causal connection. Classist AND poorly reasoned!

    • Okay, so please link to some research that suggests decriminalization has no ill effects on a community.

      • If you ignore the ill effects of prohibition and you will only support decriminalization if it has “no ill effects on a community” then you will never support decriminalization.

    • This, and the points above about racial disparities in pot possesion/consumption vs. arrest. I don’t dispute that if pot is decriminalized, it should be taxed and regulated the same as cigarettes. But the idea that someone who smokes or possesses marijuana must be an unemployed derelict is ridiculous. I’ve had tons of friends that smoked pot when they were younger, some who still do, and a couple who light up pretty much every day. It wouldn’t be my thing, but they’re decent people, they hold down a responsible full-time job, and the smoke up to relax at the end of the day…not unlike the person who hits up happy hour after work or pours themsleves a glass or two of wine when they get home. I’m all for treating pot the same way we treat alcohol–regulate its sale, tax it, make it a misdemeanor or a ticketable offense to smoke it openly in public (or whatever police could technically charge you with for having an open container).

  • It should be legalized. It should have been legalized at least 40 years ago. This is long overdue.

  • I think pot should be legal. But damn if I don’t hate hippie potheads.

  • The affluent, occasional user in me thinks it should be legalized but I think that’s what most of us are basing this on… our own experience. I will reserve judgment on this until I’ve seen some compelling evidence, however, and I think you all should too. Are there any studies that show the effects of decriminalization? I will say that from my infrequent visits, it seems San Francisco has become a bit of a mess. You can’t get away from the smell just walking down the street. And I agree with the previous poster about neighbors’ usage. I can’t imagine having that waft into my apartment that I share with my infant son. I would have no recourse if it’s legal and it’s incredibly damaging.

  • I’ve never taken pot, but from what I understand it makes you go crazy and eventually turn to other drugs. Uh, no thanks!

  • Forgive my ignorance, but what are the current laws in DC for marijuana possession? Also, how much pot constitute a possession charge in DC?

  • clevelanddave

    Smoked marijuana cannot ever be approved as medicine- there is no medicine approved by the FDA that is smoked. It is a bad way to deliver medicine. We should make our laws regarding medicine based on science, not on a popularity contest and do so federally, not state by state. .

    Marijuana can be very dangerous- the THC content of indoor grown marijuana is typically above 10 percent, often above 20 percent. It is powerful stuff when used alone— and it is often used with alcohol or other drugs. This is much higher than most marijuana used 20 or 30 years ago.

    If you “tax the shit” out of it then it will be grown and sold illegally and you’ll a) not get the tax revenue you expect and b) it will still be illegal.

    With increased availability of marijuana we will no doubt see growing use by children and young adults, as well as more driving while drugged and other behaviors that will cause danger to the general population. Even those advocating for decriminalization/legalization understand that the use of marijuana by young people is a likely outcome and science has proven beyond a doubt that it is at this age that marijuana causes the greatest harm even from casual use. You might have turned out fine and no harm done from smoking a joint but if it is a problem for one out of 10 or one out of 20 is that ok?

    Virtually all individuals arrested for personal possession quantities of marijuana alone on a first offense do not receive jail time today.

    No one is considering the long term costs to society, from increased healthcare costs from smoking marijuana, the increase in accidents (do you really want someone even with a residual high using heavy equipment?), reduced productivity that will result and more…

    And on top of all of that…do you really want to smell marijuana everywhere you go in this city? Do you really want your kids, or your neighbors, or the kids your kids are friends with to be smoking marijuana regularly? Three ounces is what, about 60 roll your owns? That is a lot of marijuana.

    For more information about the real facts, consider looking at Smart Approaches to Marijuana:

    And Just Think Twice:

    • That’s a lot of hand wringing, sure there are negatives to legalization, but they are eclipsed by the downsides of prohibition: rich and powerful black market crime syndicates, large swaths of the population disliking/mistrusting police/gov’t because they have been criminalized for what they see as a private/personal choice, money (prohibition is expensive AND ineffective), crime as a result of shadow economies, police/gov’t corruption, the prison industrial complex, etc.

      The super potent marijuana you fear is partially a symptom of prohibition.

      High grade stuff is about 4-8x as expensive as the cheap stuff plus there are mandatory minimums based on weight. High grade is easier to transport and carries less risk of long term incarceration. It is also one of the many ways that the law disproportionately goes after poor/minorities as the potent stuff is more common among affluent communities and cheap stuff among poor. So a $400 ounce on a middle class white kid amounts to very little in the eyes of the law but a $400 quarter pound on a black kid will result in charges and possible time. So “personal possession quantities” vary depending on your socioeconomic status.

      The fact that marijuana laws are poorly/unevenly enforced currently should actually be an argument FOR legalization not against. All that slack on arrests/sentencing just allows the law to be applied unfairly against certain groups as is the status quo for minorities.

      There is plenty of margin for taxes and profit if it is made legal, legal growers will make less than current black market growers but market stability and being able to have a consistent business model should make up for that, plus there is the risk premium which would no longer apply meaning that lower profits would be expected and accepted. Built into the price of marijuana currently is: yield loss to seizure by police, legal fees, weapons for protection, extra security because police will not protect your business, generators (to be off the grid), profit loss to theft/robberies, couriers/dealers who are paid a premium due to risk, etc.

      Your kid, your neighbors, and your kid’s friends already do smoke and they are probably nice productive people who may get hauled off to jail for it. Drug users aren’t ‘other’ they are normal people you deal with every day.

      Your excessive hand wringing doesn’t take into account horrors of the current mess. For example, judges taking bribes from private prisons to sentence juveniles to adult prisons because an empty cell is basically ‘vacancy loss’ as they turn a profit on your taxes for every inmate housed.

      –Rant over.

      If you’d like to learn more about the idiocy of prohibition check out and watch the documentary, it is not pro-drug but it is certainly anti-prohibition it is probably the most concise piece on this issue currently.

  • I was all for it until the last part: “and would prohibit any District of Columbia government agency from denying any opportunity or benefit based on such civil violation”.

    Sorry, but if you’re getting public assistance in the form of subsidized housing, subsidized daycare, food stamps, or anything else, I think you need to be allocating 100% of any resources you may have towards getting off of public assistance, not towards your pot habit. When you don’t need my tax dollars to pay for the rest of your life, you can do whatever you like with it and your money, but in the meantime I actually have a serious problem with my taxes paying part of the rent on an apartment with up to three pot plants growing in the corner and I want to guarantee that we CAN deny opportunities or benefits to people with such civil violations. I guess I just heard my parents tell me enough times “as long as I am paying for this roof over your head, you will do what I want you to do – when you can pay for your own roof, you can do whatever you like” and it sunk in.

    • I assume you feel this way about the politicians, lobbyists, and business owners that get tax credits, subsidies, etc too right? After all a lot more money goes to that than medicaid and food stamps. Also, folks in white collar jobs have a much higher rate of drug use too. I’d rather them not spend their money on cocaine and fancy clubs if they are getting tax breaks from the public.

      • You are correct, Idaho – I want to be sure that we preserve the right to take away any “opportunity or benefit” from ANYONE that we think is not worthy of getting it. I don’t want someone with 17 “civil citations” for weed living in public housing, and I don’t want someone with 17 “civil citations” for weed getting any other kind of tax break. I’d even support saying that anyone with more than X number of “civil citations” for weed loses the Homestead Deduction for their property taxes. You have every right to do whatever you like as long as I’m not subsidizing your poor choices. That applies to the rich and the poor just the same, in my eyes.

  • how would increased decriminalization/legalization affect the drug trade and violence in mexico and central america? i see nothing wrong with the drug. i see everything wrong with the economy of it. what do you all think.

    • if it can be legally grown, then companies grow it in the US, and you dont need to import from the cartels. Yeah, it would most likely be cigarette companies who start selling the stuff, but at least the violence goes down.

      • so the mexican cartels that are running huge quantities of marijuana into this country just give up?

        i think it’s more complicated.

  • andy

    I don’t like marijuana smoking but the detrimental effect of making users end up in the criminal justice system is huge and clearly needs to end.

  • This is pretty simple. Because of prohibition we have:

    * More violence as people are forced to purchase from criminals (by definition) who are often violent, rather than from legitimate businesses. This increased violence includes in other countries (e.g. Mexico and Central America).
    * People are put in jail that taxpayers have to pay for (prison ain’t cheap). USA is 5% of world population and has 25% of prisoners.
    * Placing people in prison is not only expensive for taxpayers, but harms the prisoners in the job market once they are released (increasing the odds they will return to a criminal life).
    * Prison also tends to make people more violent, not less (being around criminals tends to harden people).
    * Families are harmed when parents are put in jail, leading to more one parent households.
    * Prohibition is a drain on police resources that could otherwise be devoted to more pressing problems and stopping violent criminals
    * A greater perception that police are out to harm communities rather than protect them
    * More civil liberties violations, more people dying in no-knock raids, increased police militarization, ridiculous asset forfeiture laws
    * Racial/class animus as black kids are locked up while white kids enjoy weed at college — we even make movies celebrating them — and white collar professionals use it with minimal fear of the police busting them.

    And on the positive side of the ledger we have, what, usage down a few percentage points at best? Isn’t like weed is hard to come by and plenty of people use it.

    Who can look at the cost-benefit ratio and tells me this makes sense? Depresses me that after decades of this crap that we are still only slowly moving towards things like medical marijuana legalization and limited decriminalization when legalization is the real answer. Why didn’t we learn this lesson the first time around with alcohol prohibition?

    • Those private prisons are raking it in hand over fist and they have great lobbyists.

      Like most issues facing us today, campaign finance is the elephant in the room.

      When public interest is at odds with moneyed interest we lose. Oligarchs rejoice!

      Meanwhile even with decades of propaganda in our heads people have come around and are demanding a change but getting over piles of lobbyist cash is a Sisyphean struggle.

      • While I realize that it’s often fasionable to blame corporations/private interests for the drug war, I don’t think this makes much sense at all. The relaxation of campaign finance laws in recent years has correlated with laxer drug laws — eg Washington and Colorado — rather than the reverse. I also think that prison guard unions play as big a role or bigger role in encouraging tough on crime laws than private prisons. Furthermore, I recently read that some medical marijuana growers in CA have expressed reservations over legalization in the state, as they realize that it would introduce lots more competition they don’t want. Which is infuriating.

        • Furthermore, corporations are mirrors of public interest. Prisons are full because we want them full. Read the comments in any crime thread; Americans are pathologically obsessed with crime and the brutal punishment of it.

        • While I realize its fashionable to be a corporate apologist for the sake of playing devil’s advocate but whether it makes sense to you or not it is true…

          The word you are looking for is not “correlate” it is “coincide” as in “coincidence” there would be far more legalization bills passed if not for prison lobbies. Prison Unions probably like it too because non-violent criminals are probably much easier to guard and if they are making money from inside the corrupt guards get a cut.

          Yes obviously currently entrenched growers (illegal or otherwise) would rather it stay illegal but they have nowhere near the clout of prisons. But hey keep smelling that red herring you are hot on its trail!

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