LANHAM, Md. (CBSDC) — The D.C. Council is set to take its first vote on decriminalizing marijuana Tuesday, but city lawmakers are considering a major change to the proposed law that would allow police to lock you up if you’re caught lighting up in public.
The current bill before the council would make possessing or smoking small amounts of marijuana punishable only with a fine — no jail time or anything on your criminal record.
The proposal, which seemed to have the support of the majority of the council as well as Mayor Vincent Gray, appeared to be on the fast track to become law in the next few months. But WNEW Senior Correspondent Mark Segraves has learned that some councilmembers, including the council chairman, now want to put the brakes on full decriminalization.
“The concern as I heard it from councilmembers is whether we tolerate marijuana smoking in public,” Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said. “My sense is while citizens don’t like the criminal penalties associated with it they also want to continue prohibition in public.”
If the last-minute changes to the bill go through, people couldn’t be arrested for smoking pot in private — such as inside their home — but police could arrest people for smoking or having marijuana in public, such as in parks or at concert venues.
City Councilman Tommy Wells says those changes defeat the purpose of decriminalizing pot.
“Some members are still concerned about smoking marijuana outdoors,” Wells said. “They still want to make that a criminal charge where you could be arrested and locked up.”
The move to decriminalize marijuana started gaining momentum last year after data showed the vast majority of people arrested for pot in the District are young and African-American. Having a marijuana charge on their criminal record at a young age could keep people from getting jobs and sometimes getting into college.
Decriminalization was seen as a way to end that.
A poll shows that 63 percent of District residents favor legalizing pot.
The council takes its first vote Tuesday. Both sides agree some form of decriminalization will pass, but it’s not clear how far-reaching the law will be.
WNEW Senior Correspondent Mark Segraves contributed to this story. Follow Mark on Twitter.