Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Advances in Washington, D.C. Council

Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Advances in Washington, D.C. Council
Measure that would reduce penalties for marijuana possession is expected to receive final approval at council's next legislative session
Statement below from Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The D.C. Council approved Bill 20-409 (The Simple Possession of Small Quantities of Marijuana Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2013) Tuesday that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in the District. The measure, which is sponsored by Ward 6 Council member Tommy Wells and supported by eight of the council's 13 members, is expected to receive final approval at the council's next legislative session.
The measure would remove criminal penalties for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana for individuals 18 years of age and older and replace them with a civil fine of $25, similar to a parking ticket. Individuals under the age of 18 who commit a violation would also have their parents notified. The bill also removes penalties for possession of paraphernalia in conjunction with small amounts and specifies that individuals cannot be searched or detained based solely on an officer’s suspicion of marijuana possession. 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.
The council adopted several amendments that weakened the scope of the bill, including one that would continue to criminalize public use, making the smoking of marijuana in public a misdemeanor that could lead to arrest and jail time, as opposed to a civil violation. An amendment was also passed that would make the odor of marijuana reasonable cause to perform a search of a vehicle.
At-large Council member David Grosso has introduced separate legislation that would tax and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol.
Statement from MPP Director of Federal Policies Dan Riffle:
“As a former prosecuting attorney, I call this a step forward for the cause of promoting public safety. Arresting and prosecuting adults for possessing a less harmful substance than alcohol is a waste of law enforcement and court resources. Police and prosecutors should focus their time and attention on addressing actual threats to public safety.
“We applaud the council for taking this step toward a more sensible marijuana policy, but there is still work to be done. These last-minute amendments will simply expand stop-and-frisk policies in the District and will do nothing to fight the horrible racial disparities in marijuana enforcement. We need to regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol, and take it out of the hands of criminals and drug cartels. Marijuana should be sold by legitimate businesses in licensed, regulated stores, not by criminals on our street corners. The sooner the council takes up Council member Grosso’s bill, the better.”





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