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Marijuana Decriminalization Proposed in Washington D.C.

Jessie Bullock

Today, Washington, D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) led the District of Columbia one step closer towards sensible drug policy reform. D.C. Councilmember Wells introduced legislation before the Council of the District of Columbia that would decriminalize the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, replacing it with a $100 civil fine.

Wells’ legislation would treat up to one ounce of marijuana possession like a traffic fine, and would also include a mandatory drug awareness class for juveniles caught with marijuana. A majority of councilmembers have cosponsored the bill, and if all goes well, we could see a final vote on the bill before the year’s end.

The legislation would be a welcome change to many District residents. The Drug Policy Alliance and the Marijuana Policy Project co-sponsored a survey of D.C. voters this April and found that three out of four voters were ready for marijuana to be decriminalized, and many were ready for further drug policy reform.

This proposed legislation is progress, but it should only be the first step of many towards comprehensive drug policy reform in D.C.

“Decriminalizing marijuana is a no-brainer, but the Council should do more. There is an opportunity to make a clean break from the past and treat drug use as a health issue instead of a criminal justice issue,” said Bill Piper, director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “More access to treatment and health services. No more putting people in jail.”

According to a recent ACLU report, the District of Columbia leads the nation in marijuana possession arrest rates and municipal spending on marijuana arrests per capita.  The ACLU report also found that blacks and whites are arrested for marijuana possession at an eight to one ratio in D.C. The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs also just released a report indicating that nine out of ten D.C. residents arrested for drug possession were black, despite evidence that blacks and whites use drugs at the same rate. Their findings suggest that blacks are arrested at higher rates than whites in predominantly-white neighborhoods.

D.C. Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) hopes to introduce legislation to allow for the taxation and regulation of marijuana in D.C. The Drug Policy Alliance and Marijuana Policy Project’s survey of D.C. voters found that nearly 63% of DC voters would support a ballot initiative similar to those that passed last November in Colorado and Washington.

Most District residents support marijuana policy reform. Political support is increasing for marijuana policy reform. With the introduction of Councilmember Wells’ decriminalization bill, the nation’s capital could be taking her first step towards more sensible marijuana policy.


This piece was updated on July 12, 2013.

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