Marijuana possession penalties in nation’s capital will be among the lowest in the country; criminal penalties for simple marijuana possession will be replaced with a $25 civil fine, similar to a parking ticket.
A law decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana in the District of Columbia took effect on July 17, following the expiration of a congressional review period. The law, which was approved by the District of Columbia Council (10-1) and signed by Mayor Vincent C. Gray in March, will make the penalties for marijuana possession in the nation’s capital among the lowest in the country.
“Public support for ending marijuana prohibition is at an all-time high nationwide,” said Robert Capecchi, deputy director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, which lobbied in support of the legislation. “It is only fitting that our nation’s capital will have some of the lowest penalties in the country for adult marijuana possession. Criminalizing adults for using marijuana is quickly becoming an antiquated policy in the United States.”
The law replaces criminal penalties for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana with a civil fine of $25, similar to a parking ticket. Parents or legal guardians of offenders under 18 years of age will be notified of citations. Currently, possession of any amount of marijuana is a criminal offense punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. The new law also removes penalties for possession of paraphernalia in conjunction with small amounts of marijuana, and it specifies that individuals cannot be searched or detained based solely on an officer’s suspicion of marijuana possession. Public use of marijuana will remain a criminal offense punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a fine of up to $500.
“Adults in the District will no longer face potentially life-altering criminal penalties simply for possessing a substance that is less harmful than alcohol,” Capecchi said. “Our law enforcement officials will be able to spend more time addressing serious crimes. This law will make D.C. safer.”
The District’s arrest rate for marijuana possession is higher than any state in the nation, according to a report released in June by the American Civil Liberties Union. Blacks accounted for 91% of marijuana possession arrests in the District, and they were eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, despite using marijuana at similar rates. The ACLU’s analysis concluded that enforcing marijuana possession laws, which make up nearly half of all drug offenses, costs the District more than $26.5 million per year.
“This is a big step forward, but there is still room for improvement,” Capecchi said. “Until marijuana is regulated and taxed, sales will remain in the underground market, and criminal enterprises will collect the revenues instead of legitimate businesses and our community.”
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