The DC City Council has enacted a decriminalization bill that gives citizens few consequences for being caught with marijuana. This is essentially as lenient as possible without going all the way to legalize recreational marijuana in the nation’s capital. The new law went into effect on July 16, and with the District previously arresting far more than their share of marijuana users, the change is a welcome one.
Under the new law, anyone caught in possession of less than one ounce of marijuana will face a $25 fine. That’s it. No jail time. No record. No arrest.
Although Maryland also recently decriminalized, it didn’t go nearly as far with the decriminalization law here, which only allows up to 10 grams of weed. While decriminalization laws are now on the books in states like California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont, according to NORML, none are quite as permissive as the Washington D.C. ordinance.
In these states, like D.C., possession of marijuana is a civil offense, no longer a misdemeanor crime. In five other states, the penalties for marijuana possession have been reduced to a fine, but the offense remains a criminal one. Residents can have up to an ounce of marijuana in their possession with no fear of criminal charges.
The law also re-classifies cannabis-related paraphernalia as a violation as well. The paraphernalia loophole is often a sticking point in other decrim laws, allowing cops to bust people for having a pipe or a bowl, but that too is avoided in the DC statute.
The law was passed and went into effect despite last minute efforts by Congressman Andrew Harris who attempted to derail the effort. His action is still pending, though the White House has vocally opposed his efforts.
Harris’ effort prohibits the use of both federal and D.C. funds from being used to decriminalize marijuana. It would essentially render the law ineffective.
Thus far, it has passed the House Appropriations’ Committee and now goes before the House of Representatives. If passed there, it will travel to the Senate and then require a signature from the President.
“The D.C. voters elected people. They made the decision, and it seems to me that we ought to respect that,” said Rep. Jim Moran, speaking out against Harris’ efforts. “It just doesn’t seem right that the Eastern Shore of Maryland can reach over into D.C. and make laws for D.C. It’s not the way this country is supposed to function.”
The American Civil Liberties Union reported earlier this year that Washington D.C. has the highest percentage of arrests for marijuana possession in the entire country, arresting eight times as many blacks as whites. Marijuana has served as an excuse for cops to harass and ultimately arrest otherwise law-abiding citizens across the District. It has also served as an entrance to the criminal justice system for countless people.
It’s unfortunate some lawmakers will be uncomfortable knowing that adults in the capital can partake of marijuana and only face a fine if caught. But their discomfort is far from reason enough to curtail the desires of the populace, particularly when those desires make fiscal, legal, and common sense.