Welcome to Decriminalization, Washington D.C.

DC Decriminalizes Marijuana

But even with the legislation passing, legally growing marijuana in the capital will have to wait.

On Tuesday, by a margin of 10-1 the Washington D.C. City Council resoundingly voted for B20-0409 to decriminalize marijuana possession of up to one ounce.

Should the measure escape veto in Congress once Mayor Vincent Gray signs the bill, D.C. would join 17 states that have opted to significantly reduce punishments for the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

It also means that along with nine other states, the District will have both decriminalized possession and allow use of marijuana for medical purposes. It is a positive step forward for the nation’s capital and perhaps one that will lead to the legalization of growing marijuana for medical use.

The Simple Possession of Small Quantities of Marijuana Decriminalization Amendment sees the removal of criminal prosecution for marijuana possession. Instead, possession will incur a $25 civil fine, similar to traffic violation.

With a reported 8 out 10 drug possession arrests in D.C. being African-American, the council anticipates decriminalization of marijuana as a great way to address the racial imbalance in the city’s justice system while also saving taxpayers money.

The original legislation included the decriminalization of smoking in a public place (with accompanying fine being $100); however, a late amendment maintains that consumption in public will remain a criminal offense punishable by up to 60 days in jail and/or a $500 fine.

A few late amendments in yesterday’s proceedings also ensure that criminal marijuana cases will now be prosecuted by the D.C. Attorney General and not U.S. Attorney’s Office. Police will also no longer seize marijuana evidence. The amendment proposed by Council member Vincent B. Orange’s to prevent drug testing for marijuana by D.C. employers, however, did not receive the Council’s support.In light of the social justice and racial equality efforts, Washington D.C.’s actions in decriminalizing are encouraging. We hope this is a sign that perhaps legalization and provisions that allow for growing medical marijuana in the District are in the near future. Safe access to medicine should be available to all patients and hopefully D.C. will make it possible for its residents soon.