High Times in DC: Marijuana Decriminalized in U.S. Capital

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For anyone who believes the push for marijuana legalization is restricted to liberated states out west, it’s time to look at the nation’s capital. The Washington, D.C., City Council voted to remove harsh punishments for possession of small amounts of marijuana on March 4 by an overwhelming majority of votes. Once D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray signs the bill into law, which he’s expected to do, the punishment for holding pot in the capital city will amount to a slap on the wrist and a fine of $25.

The measure in the D.C. Council will take the teeth out of laws now on the books in the nation’s capital. As it stands, marijuana possession is punishable by fines up to $1,000 and six months in jail. Under the new law, possession will be considered a minor infraction on the level of a parking ticket but cost less, while anyone caught smoking pot in the streets will face fines up to $500 or 60 days in a D.C. jail. Council members voted ten to three in favor of decriminalizing.

Supporters of the movement to legalize marijuana rejoiced at the news, noting it marks a turn for the East Coast and stands as a powerful symbol by going into effect in the nation’s capital. Tommy Wells, the Councilman who sponsored the bill, told Reuters that the law would help move the district away “in the right direction,” i.e. away from the current policy that has police arresting over 5,000 people on pot charges annually in D.C.

On top of the waste of tax dollars and attention of the police force, the marijuana legalization debate has civil rights implications as well. African Americans are four times more likely to be arrested than Caucasians for marijuana offenses, a ratio which is even worse in Washington, D.C.

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