News

Washington D.C. weighs decriminalizing marijuana

Washington D.C. weighs decriminalizing marijuana

HIGH TIMES: Lawmakers are one step closer to decriminalizing marijuana possession in the nation's capital. Photo: Reuters/Rick Wilking

By Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The District of Columbia will take a step closer toward decriminalizing marijuana on Wednesday with a move that will make smoking a joint in the U.S. capital a violation comparable to a parking ticket.

With Washington arresting people for pot possession at a higher rate than any state, a city council panel is set to mark up a bill that would reduce penalties for possessing less than an ounce (28 grams) of marijuana to a fine as little as $25.

If the bill is passed, Washington would join 15 U.S. states and a handful of cities, including Detroit, that have decriminalized marijuana use, making possession a civil rather than a criminal offense.

Decriminalization would hold down police and legal costs and reduce “undeniable racial disparities” that see blacks far more likely than whites to be arrested for pot, said Tommy Wells, chairman of the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety, which will make changes to the bill.

“We have to take action to decriminalize possession of an ounce or less of marijuana and reform our criminal justice system,” Wells said in a statement.

Passage is likely since nine of 13 council members and Mayor Vincent Gray support the measure. Possession of any amount of marijuana in Washington is currently a misdemeanor carrying up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Decriminalization “turns possession into a civil violation very much similar to a traffic ticket,” said Erik Altieri, a spokesman for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Two states, Colorado and Washington, have legalized marijuana. The first-ever retail sales of pot for recreational use began in Colorado at the start of the year.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo came out this month in favor of allowing the limited use of medical marijuana for seriously ill patients.

Support for decriminalizing marijuana in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol was boosted by an American Civil Liberties Union report showing that blacks in Washington were eight times more likely than non-blacks to be arrested for possession.

The June report said that in 2010 the capital had a higher pot arrest rate than any state, at 846 arrests per 100,000 people. Police made nearly 15 arrests a day at an estimated cost of almost $18 million, it said.

The Washington decriminalization law could face scrutiny from Congress, which has constitutional oversight over the capital.

But Altieri expected little resistance from Congress since lawmakers have not tried to pre-empt similar measures in other jurisdictions.

Also, Congress tends to be more concerned with spending and budget matters involving Washington, and the district could portray decriminalization as a way to cut costs, he said.

A spokesman for the House of Representatives’ Oversight Committee did not respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

Recent Headlines

1 hour ago in Viral Videos

Who’s your daddy?

Fresh
16-overlay-10

When you're a baby and your dad is a twin, life can be confusing.

3 hours ago in Entertainment

Johnny Depp wigs out as Donald Trump in spoof biopic

16-overlay-11

The Hollywood actor dons a Trump-style hairpiece to lampoon the presidential hopeful in the 50-minute comedy for Funny or Die alongside a star-studded cast including Alfred Molina, Henry Winkle

3 hours ago in Entertainment

Another ‘Harry Potter’ book in the works

harrypotter

Fans will have the chance to read another installment in J.K. Rowling's wizard series when her new play is published as a book.

4 hours ago in Viral Videos

WATCH: Oh mother …

23-overlay-3

Is it the worst "Family Feud" answer ever? Judge for yourself.

6 hours ago in Entertainment, National

Shkreli is sued over his $2 million Wu-Tang Clan album

Updated
Pharmaceutical chief Martin Shkreli listens on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016, during the House Committee on Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on his former company's decision to raise the price of a lifesaving medicine. Shkreli refused to testify before U.S. lawmakers who excoriated him over severe hikes for a drug sold by a company that he acquired. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Shkreli has bragged that he had no plans to listen to the album, but bought it to "keep it from the people."