Washington D.C. council member Tommy Wells wants to stop making criminals D.C. residents for possession of small amounts of cannabis, and will introduce legislation today to do just that.
Wells, a democratic candidate for mayor, announced his plans to make possession of less than an ounce a civil fine with a $100 fine as the maximum punishment. The goal, he says, is to end the criminalization of youth in his community.
Currently, having up to an ounce on you is a misdemeanor charge with up to $1,000 in fines and six months in jail.
“We are going to really acknowledge that the war on drugs, in particular marijuana, have worked to criminalize many of your youth and disadvantaged them from being able to get jobs,” Wells said at a press conference earlier today. “Once you have a marijuana charge on your record, you can not participate in, certainly the construction boom that is happening all over the city, and it works to stigmatize people … and it disadvantages them from jobs.”
The decriminalization applies to adults as well as to minors, though kids would have to take drug awareness classes. If they don’t do the drug court, they’ll be faced with a $200 fine and community service.
Well’s proposal is being praised by groups like the Drug Policy Alliance and the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU recently reported that D.C. residents are arrested for marijuana possession at rates higher than any state in the country. In 2011, there were about 5,760 marijuana arrests in the 69 square-mile city.
According to the Washington Post, another D.C. council member, David Grosso, says he is currently working on legislation that would legalize, tax and regulate marijuana in the district. Grosso told WAMU.org that he won’t introduce the bill until the fall, after he’s had a chance to meet with community groups.
Such a bill might have wide support from area residents, who were polled with a 60 percent approval rating for legalizing, regulating and taxing limited amounts of cannabis.
But not everyone is on the bhang bandwagon. Several council member’s have voiced their concerns that even if the bill were to pass through council, it would still have to be approved by the U.S. Congress. As Council Chairman Phil Mendelson told the Post back in May: “I don’t think decriminalization of marijuana will go over easily with Congress.”