D.C. Council Vote Pushes Marijuana Decriminalization Forward

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The District of Columbia City Council’s took the first step toward decriminalizing marijuana Tuesday. In an eleven to one vote, the proposal passed the initial vote. The “Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014″ was first introduced in July 2013, and the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety held public hearings in October. Current policy holds that possession is considered a misdemeanor, and can be punished by up to six months in jail, and/or a fine not exceeding $1,000.

If the bill passes, possessing one ounce or less of marijuana would be considered a civil offense, and subject to a $25 fine. It would also not be illegal to smoke on your own property. In a report accompanying the bill, the City Council explains that although percentages of white and African American adults living in the District are roughly equal, African American adults are arrested at a significantly higher rate. A study of arrests between 2009 and 2011 is cited, which found that eight out of every ten people arrested in D.C. are black, and the wards where arrests occur is skewed more toward the black residents.

Just under half, 46.9 percent, of all drug arrests in D.C. are for marijuana. Like the previous arrest statistics, the rate disproportionately affects African Americans, who made up 90 percent of marijuana arrests in 2011. This, the proponents in the report state, is taking valuable time and resources away from law enforcement officials in the District. It also unfairly creates a culture of stigmatization against the arrested individuals when they try to apply for housing or financial aid.

Fox affiliate in Washington, D.C. carried remarks made by Councilmember Tommy Wells. ”The evidence of racial disparities in DC arrests for marijuana is undeniable and the socioeconomic impacts on African American residents are indisputable,” Wells stated. ”I am proud that we have taken this step, with support from so many on the DC Council, to decriminalize marijuana.” Wells introduced the measure.

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