Marijuana Decriminalized in D.C. For Now

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(credit: Doug Menuez/Thinkstock)

(credit: Doug Menuez/Thinkstock)

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LANHAM, Md. (WNEW/AP) – At least for the time being, it’s no longer a criminal offense to carry a joint in your pocket in most of the nation’s capital.

The District of Columbia’s law decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana takes effect Thursday. But it’s not clear how long the law will last. The House has approved a spending bill with an amendment that would bar the District from implementing the law.

The law replaces criminal penalties for possession of one ounce of pot with a $25 civil fine, one of the lowest in the country.

D.C. police are seeking to remind residents that smoking in public, possession of more than one ounce or selling marijuana remain criminal offenses. It’s also still illegal to have pot on federal property, and the new law doesn’t apply to U.S. Park Police.

D.C. Marijuana Law 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.

Because Congress did not pass a resolution disapproving of the local law, it’s set to take effect Thursday, and D.C. police are preparing to start issuing citations and informing the public about the policy change.

The GOP-controlled House approved a spending bill Wednesday that would undo the District’s law decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana and its strict gun-control laws. The fate of the spending bill and the amendments will likely depend on negotiations between the House, Senate and White House. The District is represented in Congress by Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton, a non-voting delegate. All locally passed laws must be sent to Congress for review and approval.

The White House said in a statement that the marijuana amendment undermines states’ rights and “poses legal challenges to the Metropolitan Police Department’s enforcement of all marijuana laws currently in force in the District.”

Republican Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland, who introduced the marijuana amendment in committee last month, argued that the decriminalization law was bad policy and would lead more children to smoke marijuana, hurting their brain development. Gray and other city leaders responded by calling for a boycott of Harris’ district, which includes popular vacation spots on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

DC Pot Decriminalization

All News 99.1 WNEW

WNEW D.C. Bureau Chief Matt DelSignore contributed to this report. Follow him and WNEW on Twitter.

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