Marijuana decriminalization vote passes D.C. council, setting the capital up to be the 18th state to soften their stance on marijuana possession. Under the proposed changes, public smoking would still result in up to six months in jail and a fine of $500, but being caught with an ounce or less will no longer result in jail time but only a $25 fine. Despite these changes, use, possession, sale, and growing of marijuana will still be illegal. D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray has confirmed that he intends to sign the bill, and resistance from Congress is unlikely due to the divided control of the individual chambers involved.
A key facet of the changes is the intention of reduced racial profiling and marginalization against coloured citizens, who have been victims of the majority of arrests related to marijuana possession in D.C. for the past several decades. Council members recognize that not everyone carrying a small bag of weed around is a top drug dealer, and many of the poorer people living in D.C. who are more likely to buy marijuana often buy small amounts on payday. Because it is still illegal, those caught with large amounts of marijuana or cash can still be arrested and detained on trafficking suspicions.
As the marijuana decriminalization vote passes D.C. council, officials and citizens alike are looking forward to what Councilman David Grosso refers to as the “next step” of taxing and regulating marijuana sales. With success stories in several cities and states regarding the drug, it seems that the plant is slowly but surely working past its tainted image and back into acceptance in many circles. As more and more lawmakers begin to treat the drug with reasonable approaches to its control, the benefits it can provide can become more widespread. The D.C. vote went through council with ten for and one against, reducing the once severe penalty for possessing any amount of marijuana to that of a parking fine.
In a move that many have cried is only common sense, those found to be stoned in public will be given a public intoxication citing just the same as someone who was obnoxiously drunk. Officers will not be able to detain suspects based on the smell of weed alone, but visible smoke or paraphernalia are enough to be taken in. As well, being stoned behind the wheel will still carry the heavy penalties associated with driving drunk. Stopping short of straight up legalization, marijuana decriminalization moves not to promote the use of drugs, but removes the angle of protecting citizens from themselves, where officers should be more worried about protecting them from each other.
As the marijuana decriminalization vote passes D.C. council, the coming months will show the council members whether they made a good decision or not. If D.C. citizens can handle their new responsibilities, the way could conceivably be paved for future legalization and regulation. If they cannot however, it is very possible that this vote will be repealed and harsh penalties will once again be the norm, despite the growing reform movement in the rest of the U.S.
By Daniel O’Brien