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Invisiblenight trainV

Registered: 04/21/08
Posts: 162
Loc: Midwest, US
Washington DC Marijuana Decriminalization Vote Today Tues 2/4/14
    #711417 - 02/04/14 09:57 AM (4 years, 2 months ago)


WASHINGTON, DC — Lawmakers in our nation’s capital are expected to vote Tuesday on legislation that would eliminate criminal penalties for the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana and treat possession and public consumption as civil offenses.  The legislation was approved in January by the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety.

Since its introduction in July 2013 by Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), the legislation has received overwhelming public support.

The “Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014 (Council Bill 20-409)” would eliminate the threat of arrest for possessing or using marijuana and ensure that people are no longer saddled with life-long convictions that make it difficult to obtain employment and housing.

Instead of arresting people the bill would impose a $25 civil fine for possession and a $100 civil fine for smoking marijuana in public places as well as forfeiture of the marijuana and any paraphernalia used to consume or carry it.

Mayor Vincent Gray and ten out of thirteen Councilmembers also have pledged support for decriminalization legislation. The bill is designed to address massive racial disparities in D.C.’s criminal justice system.

“It’s rare that the Council has such an easy opportunity to improve the lives of tens of thousands of District residents, especially those in communities of color – all while saving taxpayer money,” said Bill Piper, Director of the Office of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “By saving thousands of D.C. residents from getting arrested for marijuana possession every year, this bill promotes both social justice and public safety.”

Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee on Civil Rights and Urban Affairs released groundbreaking reports documenting enormous racial disparities in arrests for marijuana possession in D.C. These reports found that the majority of all drug arrests in the District are for simple possession of marijuana and the vast majority of the thousands arrested each year in the District are African American. African Americans in D.C. are eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people – even though government surveys show that both groups use marijuana at similar rates.

During public hearings chaired by Wells last October, witnesses criticized the disproportionate enforcement of marijuana laws on African Americans in the District and expressed concern that employers and landlords frequently reject applicants for a marijuana arrest or conviction on their record.

In response to concerns raised by the Drug Policy Alliance and other witnesses at the hearing that the proposed $100 civil fine would be too burdensome for poor and African-American residents who were disproportionately arrested and would likely be disproportionately fined for marijuana possession, Wells lowered the fine for possession from $100 to $25.

Wells also agreed with advocates that criminalizing people caught smoking marijuana in public places would undermine the purpose of his legislation to end the large number of marijuana possession arrests in the District and disproportionately impact poor and homeless residents who are more likely to be visible to the public.

Wells also inserted a new provision that instructs police officers not to use possession of a decriminalized amount of marijuana or the presence of marijuana odor as grounds to search people or their homes.

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Invisiblenight trainV

Registered: 04/21/08
Posts: 162
Loc: Midwest, US
Re: Washington DC Marijuana Decriminalization Vote Today Tues 2/4/14 [Re: night train]
    #711520 - 02/04/14 06:24 PM (4 years, 2 months ago)

Looks like this passed.


The nation’s capital just got a step closer to loosening its marijuana laws.

Under the current law, someone caught with a joint in Washington, D.C., can be arrested and jailed for six months. But on Tuesday, the District council voted overwhelmingly for a bill that would eliminate criminal penalties for possessing a small amount of the drug.

If Mayor Vincent Gray and Congress both support the bill, as expected, individuals stopped with an ounce or less of marijuana would face a $25 fine at most. People caught smoking in public would still be subject to arrest.

For years, pot advocates have criticized the District's marijuana restrictions for disproportionately targeting its black community, despite evidence (including government surveys) showing that blacks are no more likely than whites to use the drug. According to the Washington Lawyers' Committee, arrest statistics from 2009 through 2011 revealed that 9 out of 10 people arrested for drugs in Washington were black, though blacks make up slightly more than half of the city’s population.

“Black men shouldn’t have to fear being searched just for walking down the street,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, a D.C.-based group that supports the bill. “And they shouldn’t face arrest or a heavy fine for doing something that affluent whites get away with every day.”

The marijuana reform movement in the District has followed a long and twisting path. In 1998, nearly 70 percent of Washington voters supported a medical marijuana measure, but Congress, which controls District funding, quickly shut down the program.

Nearly a decade of court battles followed, and Congress finally lifted the ban in 2009. But the District’s first medical marijuana dispensary opened just last year.

Even if the bill passes, the Capitol Police, FBI and DEA could still technically arrest people on marijuana charges under federal law. But the federal government isn’t expected to defy local lawmakers. U.S. Attorney for D.C. Ron Machen said in November that he saw "a lot of problems with trying to decriminalize marijuana possession," but his office hasn't commented on the legislation since.

At the council meeting Tuesday, Democrat Tommy Wells, one of eight council members who introduced the bill last July, noted that marijuana arrests can make it harder for people to get jobs, keep housing and get access to education grants.

Yvette Alexander, a Democrat and the only council member who voted against the bill, said she had "a lot of concerns" about the legislation. "We're sending a message," she said, "that it's okay to smoke."

Assuming the bill makes its way past the mayor’s desk, its next stop would be the Capitol. Congress could effectively prevent the bill from becoming law, but advocates say that’s unlikely.

“This bill still keeps marijuana illegal, and just replaces an arrest and jail time with a fine,” Piper noted. “We don’t expect members of Congress to care that much.”

Council member David Grosso introduced a separate bill at the hearing aimed at expanding Washington's medical marijuana program. The council did not vote on it Tuesday.

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