D.C. has moved one step closer to the decriminalization of marijuana, as Councilmember Tommy Wells’ (D-Ward 6) bill—the Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014—unanimously passed the judiciary committee this morning.
Wells’ bill originally proposed that the possession of an ounce of marijuana would be decriminalized as a civil violation, punishable by a $100 fine. But new amendments to his bill have reduced that down to just a $25 fine, while getting caught smoking marijuana in public would be punishable by a $100 fine. Wells said that the “criminalization of marijuana does not work,” and that trying to enforce possession and consumption of small amounts of marijuana (an ounce or less) as a criminal violation is a “significant drain on the energy of our police and our courts.” Wells also explained how this bill also aims to help alleviate racial disparities in D.C.’s criminal justice system. “The undeniable racial disparities in arrests for the possession of small amounts of marijuana have had a disproportionate socioeconomic impact,” Wells said.
While the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety—which includes Councilmembers Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Anita Bonds (D-At Large), and Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), and is chaired by Wells—unanimously voted in favor of the bill, it wasn’t without some hesitation. Both Bowser and Cheh were concerned that the bill doesn’t address the sale of marijuana enough. Wells said that the law regarding the sale of marijuana wouldn’t change, and it would still be a criminal penalty. A vote before the full Council will likely come in early February.
This morning, the Post released a new poll revealing that a majority of District residents—63 percent to be exact—support the legalization of marijuana. At a mayoral press briefing just before the hearing, Mayor Vince Gray expressed his support of Wells’ bill and said that most of the Council also supports it. As to full legalization in the District? “I’m not there yet,” Gray said.