On the heels of an ever-growing trend in this country of the slow but steady legalization of marijuana, even the nation’s capital is jumping on the bandwagon. While not technically legal in the District of Colombia (D.C.), pot is almost there, with a promise of decriminalization, allowing for private consumption of cannabis in one’s own home. The new legislation also provides a fair amount of protection for anyone possessing an ounce or less of the T.H.C. coated flora. This is particularly good news for D.C.’s African American residents who, according to the ACLU, have been “eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person.”
Proponents of a new bill recently rejoiced over a 10-1 council vote in favor of the marijuana friendly legislation. Without any signs that Congress will oppose the sentiments of the D.C. Council, it’s potentially the start of a movement in the area to eventually join the ranks of progressive states such as California and even Colorado. Still, this bill is in conflict with federal laws, which consider the plant to be highly illegal. Now, however, with the nation’s capital easing up on their pot restrictions, it certainly makes a statement.
Mayor Vincent Gray, who seems to be in favor of the fresh legislation, is strongly hinting he will be signing the new bill very quickly. This will decriminalize and seriously eliminate jail sentencing, but not go so far as to allow for the sale and distribution of the controversial plant. Moreover, even use cannot be considered completely lawful. However, with pot almost legal in D.C., the capital is now part of a group that includes 17 states loosening their grip on tough penalties for weed smokers.
Under the new laws in D.C., a fine for possession of one ounce of cannabis will be as meager as $25. As well, anyone caught smoking the drug in public will be treated the same as someone openly drinking a beer. Cops will no longer be able to search someone based solely on the smell of pot. Being high in public? It will be treated the same as public intoxication or public drunkenness.
This is a fairly big step forward, especially for D.C. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) the nation’s capital has had the highest rate in the U.S. for possession arrests. The ACLU is particularly interested in the bill, because the current state of affairs in Washington D.C. regarding marijuana possession seem to favor white residents over African American residents. Seema Sadanandan, Program Director at the ACLU of the Nation’s Capital, recently called the bill an important move: “…towards eliminating racial profiling and the disproportionate punishments [affecting] people of color…”
The new bill, being dubbed the Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014, is expected to be signed shortly by Mayor Gray and then move into the hands of Congress, which will then examine the legislation for 60 days before final approval. With pot on it’s way to almost becoming completely legal in places like D.C., it can be seen as a huge leap in the direction of the drug being legalized on a national level.
By Josh Taub
The Columbus Dispatch