Decriminalized In DC

The City Council voted yesterday to decriminalize petty marijuana possession:

The measure removes criminal penalties for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana for individuals 18 years of age and older and replaces them with a civil fine of $25, similar to a parking ticket. It 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 would remain a criminal offense punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a fine of up to $500. 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.

Serwer explains why this is a big social justice victory for the majority-black city:

Nationally, according to a 2012 report by the American Civil Liberties Union, black people are almost four times as likely as white people to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite the fact that whites and blacks use marijuana at similar rates.

That may sound shocking, but in D.C. the disparity is even greater.

In the District according to the ACLU, blacks are eight times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession. Black people, who made up slightly more than half of the population of the city when the study was produced, also made up more than nine out of 10 arrests–91%–for marijuana possession. According to the ACLU in 2010, the more than 5,000 arrests for marijuana possession made up nearly half (47%) of the District’s arrests for drug offenses.

Allie Jones warns that Congress can scuttle the bill if they want, though it isn’t likely:

The bill now has to sit before congressional panel for 60 days, during which time the House and Senate could agree to reject it. That probably won’t happen — Congress has only rejected a bill before a panel like this three times since 1972. But if federal lawmakers are going to speak up about decriminalization, now would be the time to do it.

Rep. Darrell Issa, whose House committee controls many D.C. affairs, declined to comment to The Washington Post about the bill. But Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s nonvoting member of Congress, told the Post the doesn’t expect Congress to “interfere.”