Washington, D.C. Council Will Consider Legislation to Decriminalize Marijuana Possession
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Council of the District of Columbia will consider legislation that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in the District. Councilmember Tommy Wells, chair of the council's Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, announced the proposal at a press conference Wednesday morning.
The measure would remove criminal penalties for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana for individuals 18 years of age and older and replace them with a civil fine of $100, similar to a traffic ticket. Individuals under the age of 18 would face a civil fine of $100 and would be required to attend a drug and alcohol awareness program.
"The District's current policy of arresting and prosecuting thousands of adults for marijuana possession each year is doing far more harm than good," said Morgan Fox, communications manager for the D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project. "Nobody should face life-altering criminal penalties simply for possessing a substance that is objectively less harmful than alcohol, and law enforcement officials' time and attention would be better spent addressing serious crimes.
"It is time to adopt a more sensible marijuana policy in our nation's capital, and that is what Councilman Wells has proposed," Fox said.
The District has the country’s highest arrest rate for marijuana possession – it is more than three times the national average – and blacks are more than eight times more likely to be arrested for possession than whites, according to a report released in June by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Three out of four Washington, D.C. voters support changing District law to replace criminal penalties for possession of limited amounts of marijuana with a civil fine similar to a traffic ticket, according to a survey conducted in April by Public Policy Polling. Two-thirds said they believe law enforcement resources currently being used by District police to arrest individuals for marijuana possession should be directed toward other crimes. The full survey results are available at http://www.mpp.org/DCpoll.
Seventeen states have decriminalized marijuana possession. Two of those states, Colorado and Washington, have removed all penalties for adult marijuana possession.