Recently passed bill brings the District one step closer to marijuana decriminalization

On March 4th in a 10 to 1 vote, the D.C. Council approved a bill to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The original proposal included a $25 fine for the possesion of less than one ounce—lower than any other state except for Alaska—with an additional $100 fine for smoking pot in public. Since its introduction, however, the bill has undergone multiple revisions, and the public smoking provision was dropped after opposition from Council Chair Phil Mendelson.

Mendelson is also responsible for introducing two amendments to clarify the language of the bill. First, the Attorney General, not the U.S. Attorney, would prosecute marijuana cases, and second, marijuana evidence would not need to be seized and retained from offenders by police. Both of these additions to the bill passed unanimously in the Council.

Additional provisions of the bill dictate that consumption in private residences would draw the same $25 fine as possession with the exception of those living in public housing, which is under federal jurisdiction. Vox also highly advises against ripping a bong at the Vietnam War Memorial as you would then be arrested under federal law. If passed, it would equate the punishment for smoking marijuana in public to that of alcohol: a misdemeanor charge with a maximum penalty of $500 and up to six months in jail. Officers would also be prohibited from arresting individuals merely for smelling of marijuana; rather, they would need to see tangible smoke.

Now that the bill has been approved by the Council, it will go to Mayor Vincent Gray for a signature and Congress for 60 days of review. Considering that Gray has demonstrated public support for decriminalization and that it is deemed highly unlikely that both the House and the Senate will reject it, it is expected that the bill will be passed.

This shift in opinion on the legalization of marijuana in the District reflects a growing national trend. According to Aaron Smith of the National Cannabis Industry Association, there are 60 lobbyists traversing the floors of the Capitol attempting to persuade congressmen to open their eyes to what is happening in states across the country. “Ultimately, the members of Congress that don’t register the will of their voters will lose their jobs and not be reelected,” Smith said. “So that’s something that I think is in all their minds. They see the same polls that we see.”

And according to a January poll by CNN, the people have spoken: 55% of those questioned agreed that marijuana should be made legal.

Vox reached out to GUPD for comment on whether this would change University practices, though they have not yet returned a response (and are likely busy dealing whatever’s happening in McCarthy). She’ll update the post when she receives a response.

Video: The Washington Post via Youtube

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