D.C. council votes to ease marijuana laws
March 4th, 2014
03:16 PM ET
10 months ago

D.C. council votes to ease marijuana laws

Washington (CNN) – The District of Columbia Council voted to significantly ease marijuana laws in the nation’s capital on Tuesday.

By a near unanimous vote, the council decided to lessen penalties for public and private consumption of marijuana and decriminalize the possession of small quantities of the drug.

While the move puts Washington, D.C.’s laws on marijuana among the most lenient in the nation, the bill’s proponents did not get everything they wanted. Originally, advocates had lobbied for a bill that would have significantly loosened laws for public consumption of marijuana and lessened penalties even more.

But when the council met last month to first consider the proposal, an amendment was added that brought the bill closer to its final form.

The approved legislation moves the possession of an ounce or less or marijuana from a criminal offense – which came with six months in jail or a $1,000 fine – to a civil offense that comes with a fine of $25.

And while the bill still makes public consumption of marijuana a misdemeanor offense, it lowers the penalty for smoking marijuana in public from a $1,000 fine or six months in jail to a $500 fine or 60 days in jail.

The text of the amendment compares the penalty for smoking marijuana in public to public consumption of alcohol.

Advocates for the proposal, like Councilmember Tommy Wells, have said the change was needed primarily because the laws were more often than not used to arrest African Americans in the district.

“I am proud that we are taking a big step to address and correct that injustice,” said Wells, who is running for mayor. “I am not an advocate for the use of marijuana in public or private, but an end to the criminalization and disenfranchisement of majoritively African American D.C. residents.”

The bill’s advocates have pointed to a 2013 study by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee that found “nearly nine out of 10 of arrests for possession [of marijuana] involved African American arrestees.” The study argues that African Americans make up far less than 90% of marijuana consumption in D.C and therefore the district’s laws encourage “racial disparities that raise important questions of public policy and civil rights concerns.”

The bill, however, is rife with question marks and gray areas. For example, the smell of marijuana would not allow police officers to make an arrest, but the sight of marijuana smoke would.

The district’s law also places the nation’s capital at odds with federal statute. Congress has oversight of D.C. laws, but is not expected to weigh in.

Yvette Alexander was the only councilmember to vote against the measure, stating that she disapproved of the gap the law creates between possessing marijuana and selling and smoking the drug.

“If you sell marijuana or if you smoke marijuana, it is legal. If you possess it, it’s not,” Alexander said. “Why do you possess marijuana? Is it a lucky charm?”

Councilmember Vincent Orange voted present on the proposal and Councilmember Marion Barry, who has been sick and hospitalized recently, did not attend the vote.

Proponents of the law admit there are going to be some areas where questions may arise, but say Tuesday’s passage is, on the whole, a positive move by the council.

“This is a major step since we are the nation’s capital, and I am proud of that,” said Wells.

The bill now goes to the desk of D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, who in the past has voiced his support for loosening marijuana laws.


Filed under: Marijuana • Washington D.C.
soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. Rudy NYC

    Can they do that? I've always thought that Congress was the real authority in D.C.

    March 4, 2014 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  2. Me

    Come on, do this for the ENTIRE COUNTRY, it is LONG overdue!!!

    March 4, 2014 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  3. salty dog

    Barry is still around, wow.

    March 4, 2014 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  4. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Where's Our $24 Billion?

    This is good news to hear. But this America! And knowing the Prison Industrial Complex, they'll find some nonsensical reason to lock minorities up. You'll probably get locked up for saggin' your jeans.

    March 4, 2014 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  5. 2_indy1600

    So which side of his mouth are people supposed to believe: he wants to help young minorities at disadvantage, or make it easier for them to get stoned and miss school?

    March 4, 2014 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  6. Chris-E...al

    Thats good the Council passed the law as a group elected by the PPL. Maybe bambi can take note! He will prob be in jail soon .I guess Robbin Hood can bail him 0ut ?

    March 4, 2014 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  7. Rudy NYC

    ... ... "“nearly nine out of 10 of arrests for possession [of marijuana] involved African American arrestees.” The study argues that African Americans make up far less than 90% of marijuana consumption in D.C. .... ...
    --------------------------–
    One has to wonder what scientific methods were used to collect data in the field. What were the "field trips" really like?

    March 4, 2014 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  8. salty dog

    Why is it no matter how popular the proposal is, if it gives you a choice in your life, the gop hates it?

    March 4, 2014 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  9. Bill from GA

    So now maybe some of those DC Politicians (talkin to You, Joe Biden) will do a little research and get an informed viewpoint. Then work to relax the Federal laws that keep a hold on serious research in this country.

    And we need to quit arresting 750,000 Americans each year for this.

    March 4, 2014 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  10. Fire

    Washington D.C. the same place where marijuana is still on the schedule one list making marijuana illegal for the rest of the nations adults citizens. So city council is saying it's okay for dope dealers to sell marijuana in Washington D.C. our nations capital. What about opening dispensaries and sell to the public. Sorry but whats good for the goose is good for the gander. Time to take marijuana off the schedule one list and be fair to all citizens not just Washington D.C. Obama talks citizens being equal and not being forced to the Ukraine people, what about us Mr. President? Obamacare and marijuana off the schedule one list for starters.

    March 4, 2014 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  11. Rudy NYC

    2_indy1600

    So which side of his mouth are people supposed to believe: he wants to help young minorities at disadvantage, or make it easier for them to get stoned and miss school?
    -------------------------
    “I am not an advocate for the use of marijuana in public or private, but an end to the criminalization and disenfranchisement of majoritively African American D.C. residents.”

    According to the article, he wants to help all minorities, not just primarily the youth. I suspect that he wants to put an end to minorities being disenfranchised by society due to minor criminal convictions. You get arrested for smoking a joint in the park, and you're done for life. You can't vote, anymore. You can't get a job. You can't go to college because you can't get a tuition loan. You can't get the loan because they know that you won't be able to find a job to pay it back. You find it harder to get housing.

    You're disenfranchised. Most resort to a life of crime, like the rest of the disenfranchised. Know anything about that?

    March 4, 2014 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  12. Bill from GA

    Just read Christie's comment: "Elect a new President. That's what you do,"

    Has anybody told him that, because of term limits, um, that will be necessary?? He doesn't seem to know much about government.

    March 4, 2014 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  13. rosethornne

    Make the fine equivalent to public consumption of alcohol, hypocrites.
    That, or get a giant scarlet H sewn on all your clothes.

    March 4, 2014 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  14. Thomas

    Tax Reefer !

    Tax it big time , make it an accounting problem .

    March 4, 2014 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  15. smith

    @Rudy-If its gonna cause all this negativity in your life if you get caught then why do it in the first place. Do you want to de-criminalize dui`s because they could ruin your life as well? Years ago is was about pot being about as or less harmful than alcohol. Now, its about race because one race gets caught more than the others.

    March 4, 2014 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  16. LacrosseMom

    Marijuana should be legalized. Washington and Colorado are reaping HUGE $$$$ in taxes!

    March 4, 2014 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  17. alaskan1st

    I would think the conservatives would be in favor of the government staying out of our business. Think tobacco alcohol and sugary drinks.

    March 4, 2014 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  18. 2_indy1600

    Resorting to a life of crime because you feel disenfranchised is a choice. My Mama told me life was the choices we make. Everyone knows that pot ends up on high-school campuses; it did in 1967, and it does now. The biggest difference is the level of the THC and the number of families it continues to destabilize when teens smoke it.

    March 4, 2014 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  19. Bill from GA

    smith – "@Rudy-If its gonna cause all this negativity in your life if you get caught then why do it in the first place"

    Its about FREEDOM.

    If I'm doing something, especially in the privacy of my own home, it is not any of the governments business as long as I am harming no one. Americans, if we claim to be the Land of the Free, should not have to make choices based on what our government allows, unless there is a good reason for the government to interfere. The government has not shown that there is a good reason.

    From my experiences in my twenties, I can tell you that pot is much less harmful that Bourbon. Neither are appropriate for kids, but kids apparently have no problem getting pot now.

    March 4, 2014 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |