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DC Council Passes Bill to Decriminalize Marijuana

by Prince Of Petworth March 5, 2014 at 11:00 am 81 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user Joe in DC

From a press release:

“Legislation to decriminalize marijuana, introduced and stewarded by Councilmember Tommy Wells, passed a final vote in the District Council, ten to one.

“This is a victory for social justice and a major step for the nation’s capital,” said Councilmember Wells. “This bill is a tremendous stride to end the disproportionate impact of marijuana arrests that keep our residents from jobs, higher education and housing opportunities. The evidence of racial disparities in arrests and the failures of the war on drugs are undeniable and the negative socioeconomic impacts on African American residents are indisputable.”

According to a 2013 report by the American Civil Liberties Union, the District of Columbia leads the United States in marijuana arrests. DC police made 846 such arrests per 100,000 residents in 2010. Nationally that number was 256 per 100,000.

According to another recent report, written by the Washington Lawyers Committee, 91% of all drug arrests in DC were of African Americans. In 2010 there were 40,353 arrests of African American adults; a number equivalent to 17% of the African American adult population of the District.

A copy of the bill is available here.

What the bill does:

· Drops the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana from a criminal offense, which carries up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, down to a civil offense with a fine of $25.
· Establishes a maximum penalty for smoking marijuana in public of 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. Previously the penalty for smoking marijuana in public carried up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
· Protects individuals from being subject to detainment, frisking, searching, and arrest based solely on the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana or based on the smell of marijuana alone.
· The production, sale, and possession of over an ounce remain criminal offenses.
· The bill does not change existing laws related to driving under the influence.”

And from Rep. Norton:

“Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) made the following statement on the District of Columbia Council’s passage today of a marijuana decriminalization bill.

“In a country where many states are permitting medical marijuana, or have decriminalized or legalized marijuana, I do not expect Members of Congress to interfere with D.C.’s local right to pass its own law on marijuana decriminalization. If Members try to interfere, however, I will stoutly defend D.C.’s right to pass such legislation, just as 17 states have already done.”


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