As promised earlier this fall, Washington D.C. City Council member Tommy Wells officially introduced a marijuana decriminalization measure Tuesday with nine of his thirteen fellow council members cosigning the measures.
If passed, the move would make marijuana possession of less than an ounce a civil fine with no jail time. Currently the bill is written with a $100 fine, but Wells says he plans to drop it to $25 to help keep lower-income residents from being singled out by police.
The bill was introduced in a committee hearing, and is likely to be sent to the whole council for a preliminary vote in December. It could be on the desk of Mayor Vincent Gray by the start of the New Year.
Several marijuana supporters spoke at the committee meeting, including Arthur Spitzer of the American Civil Liberties Union who noted that D.C. has one of the highest arrest rates for personal amounts of cannabis. A majority of those people were black youths, according to D.C. Councilman Marion Barry, who supports the bill.
“In 2010, the Metropolitan Police Department arrested over 5,000 young black men on small quantities of marijuana,” Barry told ABC7. “Plus, if it gets on your record you never get a job.”
The mayor has said he is in favor of the bill, but feels that it needs to be rewritten to make sure that marijuana smoking in public on sidewalks, in park and places where children are present remains a criminal offense.
D.C. City Council might not stop at decriminalization either. Council member David Grosso tells NBC Washington that he is considering a legalization measure that would tax and regulate cannabis sales in the nation’s capitol.
Not everyone is for the bill, however. Councilman Daryl Jackson says that legalizing drugs in the already crime-ridden inner-city neighborhoods of D.C. is not the answer.
“I don’t think we need anything else to hurt us and it’s a drug,” says former district resident Daryl Jackson.