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Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Filed in DC

District of Columbia Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) filed a marijuana decriminalization bill for the nation's capital Wednesday. Wells is chairman of the council's Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety.

The bill would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of pot, with the maximum penalty being a $100 fine. Minors would have to complete a drug awareness program in addition to the fine, with failure to do so resulting in a $200 fine and court-ordered community service.

Pressure is mounting for marijuana law reform in the District. If the council doesn't act, DC-based activists are contemplating an initiative next year. Reform supporters have been emboldened by a recent Public Policy Polling survey that found 75% of District voters support decriminalization and more than 60% would support a tax, regulate, and legalize initiative similar to those that passed in Colorado and Washington last year. That same poll found a solid majority (54%) in favor of decriminalizing the possession of all drugs.

The release last month of an American Civil Liberties Union report on racial disparities in marijuana arrests has only upped the pressure. That report found that DC residents are arrested for marijuana possession at a higher rate than the residents of any state and that black DC residents are arrested at a rate far higher than white ones.

"The introduction of this legislation by Councilmember Tommy Wells is a positive step toward putting an end to marijuana possession arrests that cause irreversible harm to people's lives, disproportionately impact communities of color, and waste public resources," said Grant Smith, policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance Office of National Affairs. "While this legislation is an important step in the right direction, Councilmembers should consider following in the footsteps of Colorado and Washington by legally regulating marijuana," said Smith.

"The District's current policy of arresting and prosecuting thousands of adults for marijuana possession each year is doing far more harm than good," said Morgan Fox, communications manager for the DC-based Marijuana Policy Project. "Nobody should face life-altering criminal penalties simply for possessing a substance that is objectively less harmful than alcohol, and law enforcement officials' time and attention would be better spent addressing serious crimes. It is time to adopt a more sensible marijuana policy in our nation's capital, and that is what Councilman Wells has proposed," Fox said.

"As Councilmembers look to end marijuana possession arrests, they should also consider the broad human and fiscal toll that decades of failed drug prohibition has wrought on District residents," said Smith. "Ultimately, drug use is most effectively addressed as a health issue instead of as a criminal justice issue -- and this means that possession of any drug in DC should not be criminalized," said Smith.

Washington, DC
United States
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