UPDATED: March 4, 2014 4:07 p.m.
ORIGINAL: March 4, 2014 8:07 a.m.
WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — The D.C. Council has voted to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Tuesday’s vote was little more than a formality. The council has already approved decriminalization by an 11-to-1 vote. But before that initial vote, the council watered down the bill by maintaining criminal penalties for smoking pot in public.
The district joins the 17 states that have some form of decriminalization.
Councilmember Tommy Wells, the bill’s lead sponsor, says the District will have one of the nation’s strongest decriminalization policies because the civil fine for possession will be just $25. However, he is concerned that racial disparities will persist among those arrested for smoking.
“It’s a new day in D.C.,” Ward 8 Councilmember and former mayor Marion Barry tweeted shortly after the measure was passed. “Young black boys will no longer get criminal records for small amounts of marijuana.”
“No longer will young black men be denied jobs due to criminal records based on small amounts of marijuana,” he added.
Mayor Vincent Gray and Police Chief Cathy Lanier supported maintaining criminal penalties for public smoking.
Bill Key Points
- Possession of an ounce or less of marijuana is no longer a criminal offense. A possession charged had carried a penalty of up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
- Possession of an ounce or less is now a civil offense punishable by a fine of $25.
- Maximum penalty for smoking marijuana in public becomes 60 days in jail and $500 fine. Previously, the charge had carried a penalty of up to six months in jail and $1,000 fine.
- Individuals now protected from detainment, frisking, searching, and arrest based solely on possession of an ounce or less or based on the smell of marijuana.
- Growing, sale, and possession of over an ounce of marijuana remain criminal offenses.
- No change to existing driving under the influence law.
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