Pot Decrim Seen As Unlikely In DC; Region’s Toughest Penalties


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D.C. Councilman Claims Federal Prosecutor Won’t Let Them Decriminalize

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray on Tuesday said District officials should focus on implementing the new medical marijuana program, but should also “keep open their options” when dealing with recreational users. But at least one member of the D.C. Council claims that a federal prosecutor won’t let the council decriminalize cannabis.

Currently, D.C. has the toughest marijuana penalties in the region, reports Tim Craig of The Washington Post.
First-time offenders possessing any amount of cannabis can get up to six months behind bars and a $1,000 fine. In next door Virginia, first time offenders caught with up to a half ounce of pot top out at just a month in jail and a $500 fine.

This spring, the Maryland General Assembly passed a bill that lowered that state’s penalty for possessing small amounts of marijuana down to up to three months in jail and a $1,000 fine, according to the The Washington Times.

Cuomo is asking the New York Legislature to make public possession of up to 25 grams of marijuana a violation punishable by only a $100 fine, citing concerns that the Empire State’s marijuana laws are resulting in too many young adults getting a rap sheet. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the city’s police commissioner have endorsed the plan, which could be voted up or down in a few weeks.

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D.C. Councilman Phil Mendelson claims the District can’t even consider weakening penalties for marijuana possession

D.C. Mayor Gray said he is focused on launching the city’s medical marijuana program. Approved by the council two years ago, the program allows for city-licensed dispensaries to grow and sell the drug to patients with medical authorizations.
Recreational users, on the other hand, haven’t come up for “serious discussion” within the city administration, according to Mayor Gray.
“But I do think there will be continued discussions, about how marijuana will be treated across the District and the nation,” Gray said.
At the same time, clueless D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson, chairman of the Public Safety and Judiciary Committee, claimed that the District can’t even consider weakening penalties for cannabis possession because it could conflict with federal law.
Because the U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecutes most crimes in D.C., Mendelson claimed “it’s very difficult to make radical changes to drug laws.”
“The U.S. Attorney is going to expect the same drug policies as the federal government, which are very harsh on drugs,” Mendelson claimed. “Any bill that goes through here, the U.S. Attorney is a player in the legislative process.”
“I would suppose they would oppose any weakening,” Mendelson ventured, apparently quite timorous about actually doing his job and governing his own damn district.
When asked why on earth a city governmental body like the D.C. Council would follow the lead of a federal prosecutor, of all people, Mendelson claimed that U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen currently “has enough clout within the body” to sway the outcome of the marijuana issue.
“We weren’t able to get medical marijuana out without assessing, engaging” U.S. Attorney Machen, Mendelson claimed, while also saying he “doesn’t necessarily agree” that current marijuana penalties are “appropriate.”