A key Washington, D.C. city council committee approved a bill Wednesday that would remove criminal penalties for small-quantity possession of marijuana, setting the measure up for likely passage. The measure is supported by ten out of the 13 council members and Mayor Vincent Gray (D), according to the Washington Post.
The measure, which would impose only a civil fine for possession of an ounce or less of pot, aims to remove deeply discriminatory penalties for the offense. An American Civil Liberties Union report issued last year found that, although whites and blacks use marijuana at similar rates, African Americans were four times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana. In Washington, D.C. that disparity, is twice as stark — African Americans are eight times more likely to be arrested. A new Washington Post poll found that 63 percent of District residents support “legalization” of marijuana possession, and another 16 percent support a civil fine like the one in the decriminalization bill. At least 17 states have passed similar decriminalization measures, in addition to many cities.
Unlike the recreational marijuana laws in Washington and Colorado, decriminalization measures only remove criminal penalties with possession. They do not, however, legalize or regulate distribution and growth — a component viewed as key by legalization supporters to driving out the black market and controlling public health consequences of marijuana consumption. D.C. already has a medical marijuana law.
In some cities like New York, decriminalization of marijuana hasn’t stopped police from finding ways to make arrests for small-time possession. Because public possession is still a crime, cops who perform notorious stop-and-frisks reportedly take marijuana out of an individual’s pocket during a search, and then arrest the individual for having the marijuana in public view. Marijuana is the number one reason for arrest after a New York Police Department stop-and-frisk.