DC's New Punishment for Pot Possession: $25 Fine

Mayor says he'll sign measure; advocates don't expect lawmakers to intervene
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 5, 2014 10:05 AM CST
DC's New Punishment for Pot Possession: $25 Fine
Washington, DC is poised partially to decriminalize marijuana.   (AP Photo/Matilde Campodonico, File)

Unless federal officials intervene—a move advocates describe as unlikely—Washington, DC, will soon partially decriminalize marijuana. The city council voted 10-1 yesterday to nix jail time for possession of up to an ounce and smoking at home, instead imposing fines of just $25 for those offenses. That's a smaller fine than in any state except Alaska, the Washington Post notes. Smoking in public would be treated on the same level as downing a beer in public: a $500 fine and jail time of up to six months, halving the existing $1,000 fine and one year of potential jail time. Mayor Vincent Gray plans to sign the measure, but thanks to DC's "unique rules of governance" it must also survive a 60-day period in front of a congressional panel; supporters expect it to emerge unscathed.

The district sees more possession arrests per year than anywhere else in the country, the Marijuana Policy Project says, per Time, and the measure would put the district on similar legal footing to 17 states. Council members point to healing a racial divide: "In DC, there are more than 5,000 arrests per year for marijuana; 90% are African American," says the bill's top sponsor. But passage would lead to a potentially sticky situation in the nation's capital: Federal law could continue to allow arrest for possession on the National Mall, for example, the Post reports. (More Washington, DC stories.)

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