Marijuana decriminalization takes effect in D.C., but law’s future unclear

A marijuana activist group submitted 57,000 signatures to get marijuana legalization on November's ballot . Hatchet File Photo
Those caught in D.C. with less than an ounce of marijuana can now expect a $25 fine instead of jail. Hatchet File Photo

Getting caught with less than one ounce of marijuana isn’t such a big deal anymore in the District.

Metropolitan Police Department officers will now set aside the handcuffs for a $25 ticket – and your weed – after the D.C. law decriminalizing the minor possession of marijuana took effect Thursday, following a two-month congressional review period.

But it’s uncertain how long the law will stay in place, with Republicans in the House of Representatives seeking to overrule the D.C. Council’s 10-1 vote. But until then, possession of up to 28 grams of marijuana will cost offenders less than the $75 fine for littering,

Under the new law, police officers must find evidence that an individual has marijuana before they can take any action – smelling the signature odor isn’t enough. Police also can’t demand photo identification from someone caught with less than one ounce of pot, the Washington Post reported.

Police can still arrest anyone caught smoking marijuana in public or in possession of more than one ounce – crimes unaffected by the new law.

MPD is the only police agency in D.C. with a new playbook for enforcing marijuana offenses. Federal agencies, like the U.S. Park Police, can still make arrests for possession of any amount of marijuana.

The University has not yet indicated whether the decriminalization law will change UPD enforcement of campus policy, which bars any amount of marijuana possession.

University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar said UPD is still waiting for guidance from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Students caught with drugs on campus are referred to the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities for disciplinary action and face consequences ranging from a small fine to suspension or expulsion, depending on the severity of the offense.

But University officials may not have to consider any changes if House Republicans have their way.

The House appropriations committee approved an amendment last month to a government spending bill proposed by Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., that would prevent the District from enforcing the new marijuana law. The spending bill passed in the House on Wednesday, but will likely face opposition from Senate Democrats.

And the White House has threatened a veto if the bill reaches the president’s desk. The Office of Management and Budget wrote in a letter that the bill’s amended language “undermines the principles of States’ rights and of District home rule.”

Marijuana could even be fully legalized after November’s elections: The D.C. Cannabis Campaign submitted enough signatures earlier this month to put legalization to a referendum.

Voters are likely to say yes, according to a Washington Post poll, with 63 percent of residents in favor of legalizing pot.

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