The Washington D.C. City Council voted and approved looser marijuana sanctions today. The verdict makes small amounts of marijuana possession and usage in the home permissible with a minimal fine instead of a criminal offense.
The next step is for Washington D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray to sign the measure. Gray is already in support of the decriminalization of marijuana in the Capital. That is the extent of this measure; it exchanges civil fines for criminal punishment and does not legalize marijuana growth, use, sale or possession.
Congress has authority to veto the legislation. However, it is seen as an unlikely occurrence with current party divisions. Also, Congress has only vetoed three measures in the past 35 years.
The new legislation will give a $25 ticket to anyone caught with an ounce or less of marijuana. If caught while publicly smoking the substance, the punishment is a misdemeanor resulting in a $500 fine or six months of jail time. It is the same penalty as an open container of alcohol violation.
There are other pieces to the policy that restrict D.C. police officers from being able to arrest an individual after smelling marijuana. The officers would instead be required to see actual smoke in order to make an arrest. Also, the officers would be prevented from charging and individual with dealing if they have cash, smoking paraphernalia and multiple bags of marijuana. It is argued by advocates that some of the less wealthy people are paid in cash and buy multiple bags at a time after payday. In addition, being under the influence of marijuana in public would be a lesser crime than public intoxication unless the user is driving a vehicle.
Councilman David Grosso said that he looks forward to further steps being taken following the measure that makes marijuana possession in Washington D.C. permissible in small amounts, such as taxing marijuana and regulating its sale.
Washington D.C. joins the ranks with several other states and cities that have created looser sanctions in terms of punishment for marijuana. It has not gone as far as Washington and Colorado, who have both legalized the sale and use of marijuana for recreational use.
Supporters of the legislation say that it will decrease costs in law enforcement. Tommy Wells, the bill’s sponsor, said that there is 5,000 marijuana-related arrests alone per year in Washington D.C. Wells added that this is a “significant step” in rehabilitating the “failed war on drugs.” Backers of the measure said also that the bill would protect people who share marijuana with others from being charged as a dealer of the drug.
Federal officers do make marijuana-related arrests, as the U.S. Park Police have jurisdiction over the Mall and almost every traffic circle and park and have recorded more than 500 incidents. Spokeswoman for the Park Police, Lelani Woods said, “there is nothing to suggest” that the measure will be the “standard” for the Park Police.
Clearly, this measure conflicts with the federal laws that criminalize all marijuana-related offenses, but this has not stopped Washington D.C. from making marijuana possession permissible in small amounts.
By Rebecca Hofland