City moves closer to decriminalizing marijuana

The D.C. Council will soon vote on a bill decriminalizing marijuana, one of few East Coast cities to consider such legislation. Hatchet File Photo
The D.C. Council will soon vote on a bill decriminalizing marijuana, one of few East Coast cities to consider such legislation. Hatchet File Photo

This post was written by Hatchet reporter Laura Porter.

The D.C. Council made another move toward decriminalizing marijuana Wednesday, drawing attention across the country after a committee unanimously voted to move the legislation forward.

With Council approval, the cost of being caught with less than one ounce of pot would be reduced to $25 and bring D.C. in line with a handful of U.S. cities and more than a dozen states. The $25 fee – about the cost of a parking ticket – is a steep decrease from the $100 fine first floated last summer.

Council member Tommy Wells, who introduced the bill, called it “a social justice bill,” highlighting racial disparities in arrests and the cost of getting slapped with fines for possession.

The decrease in fines comes after witnesses in a public hearing said $100 was too steep for poor families, said Wells’ spokesman Jack Pfeiffer.

“Maybe it doesn’t impact wealthier people, but it’s not wealthier people that are getting caught smoking marijuana,” Wells told the Washington City Paper.

In an email statement, Wells added that arrests for marijuana possession are expensive to prosecute and time-consuming for police officers. He said the law could become official by April.

Council member and GW Law professor Mary Cheh also praised the bill Wednesday, describing a path toward a more just legal system.

“The ultimate goal is not to let the simple possession of marijuana destroy someone’s life,” Cheh said.

A Washington Post poll, released Wednesday, showed for the first time 63 percent of District residents support legalizing marijuana.

Mayor Vincent Gray said at his morning press conference that he’s “not there yet” when asked about legalizing the drug.

Portland, Me., became the first East Coast city to legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana by adults over 21 last November.

Two states – Colorado and Washington – have legalized marijuana.

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