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Monday, May 27, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Holding an Ounce of Pot Decriminalized in D.C.

WASHINGTON (CN) - The D.C. City Council abolished criminal penalties for possession of marijuana in amounts of 1 ounce or less, by a vote of 10 to 1.

Once Mayor Vincent Gray and Congress approve the bill, Washington will become the latest to join the state and city decriminalization movement of nonmedicinal marijuana use.

The American Civil Liberties Union said such steps correct the lopsided arrest rates for blacks in the city.

"This vote is proof: the people of Washington, DC, are tired of living in a city where a black person is eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, despite similar rates of use," Seema Sadanandan, program director of the ACLU's D.C. office, said in a statement.

A departure from how the debate is usually framed as a personal privacy issue, the ACLU has linked the vote to racial justice, citing severe racial disparities in arrests in the city for marijuana possession.

Officially named Council Bill 20-409, the Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014 subjects people caught possessing an ounce or less of pot to a $25 fine, an amount considerably less than the fines levied for parking violations and speed camera tickets.

People pinched for possessing the small amount will also have to forfeit their marijuana and any paraphernalia connected to personal consumption or transport.

"With its decriminalization bill, Washington, DC, joins the ever-growing number of cities and states enacting marijuana reform," said Ezekiel Edwards, director of the ACLU's Criminal Law Reform Project. "We look forward to the day when the whole country has rejected marijuana prohibition and the unfair burdens it places on people of color."

Alaska, California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota and 11 other states have also dropped the punishment for pot down to that of a minor traffic violation. Colorado and Washington have both legalized the recreational use of the drug.

Numerous cities around the country have also reduced fines and punishment for possessing small amounts of marijuana.

Though marijuana reform advocates view the vote as both a civil liberties and personal privacy victory, critics maintain that the law is inconsistent with federal policies and will create a public health hazard.

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