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D.C. Council committee votes to decriminalize marijuana

D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells speaks during a committee hearing to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. USE OF PHOTO PROHIBITED WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION.
D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells speaks during a committee hearing to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. USE OF PHOTO PROHIBITED WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION.
Don Baxter/Media Images International

The D.C. Council’s Judiciary and Public Safety Committee voted unanimously Jan. 15 to decriminalize marijuana in the District of Columbia. Bill B20-0409 seeks to remove criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

In its current form, the bill would make mere possession of less than one ounce of marijuana a civil infraction, subject to a $25 fine. Anyone caught smoking marijuana would be subject to a fine of $100.

“The expense and time required to arrest and prosecute people solely for possessing marijuana is a significant drain on the energies of our police and our courts,” said Councilmember Tommy Wells, chair of the committee.

Wells also mentioned the life impacts of having an arrest records for small amounts of marijuana. “An arrest record impacts a person’s ability to keep a job or get a new one, as well as their ability to find housing …” he continued.

The bill does not allow for increased penalties for repeated violations. It does require the seizure of marijuana and related paraphernalia by law enforcement authorities during a police stop.

Councilmember Muriel Bower raised the issue of penalties for selling marijuana. It is important to note that bill does not address the sale of any amount of marijuana. Selling the substance remains a criminal offense.

Bower supported the legislation, but noted, “Certainly we don’t want to go back to the days when we had open-air drug selling in our city. The logic of legalization makes a lot more sense to me than decriminalization.”

Mayor Gray has stated that he is against the legalization of marijuana.

Wells distinguished the difference between legalization and decriminalization. “Decriminalization clearly means that you will not be arrested. It means that you’ll get a ticket.”

He added, “You’re more likely to be arrested in Anacostia than you are in Georgetown. This bill addresses that social inequity.”

The bill now moves to the full council for consideration.

This article represent the original reporting of the author.