|U.S. Navy images.|
Washington D.C. elected officials have decriminalized up to an ounce of cannabis in our nation’s capitol, though the law still needs approval from the U.S. Congress before it is official.
Mayor Vincent Gray signed the measure last night, making the possession an ounce or less a civil offense punishable by a $25 fine at most. Smoking ganja in public remains illegal, and you can still be jailed for up to two months for lighting up a spliff anywhere other than the safety and privacy of someone’s home. Marijuana possession does remain illegal on federal property in the city, however (which is practically everywhere).
“This is a victory for the District and a victory for justice,” said the measure’s sponsor, Councilmember Tommy Wells, in a press release. “This bill is a tremendous stride to end the disproportionate sociological and economic impact of marijuana arrests on African Americans – arrest that pull families apart and keep our residents from jobs, higher education and housing opportunities.”
Wells says the new law should help curb the extreme disparity between marijuana arrests for blacks and whites, 846/100,000 arrests versus 185/100,000 arrests respectively.
Patrice Sutton of the NAACP of Washington D.C. said the move was a good first step, but implied that much more needed to be done. “It is an important and notable first effort to include the voices of those who suffer the consequences of conviction, when assessing the full impact of criminal legislation,” she wrote this week.
All new laws passed in D.C. have to be approved by the U.S. Congress – which might be a big hurdle for the measure to overcome. But it does have support from D.C. representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, who vowed to support the measure.
“The law does not intend to encourage marijuana smoking, but to discourage the needless and disproportionate effect marijuana laws have on African American men and boys – criminal records that often affect them for the rest of their lives,” she said. “While I do not expect Congress to interfere with D.C.’s right to pass a local law on marijuana decriminalization, just as seventeen states have already done, I will resolutely defend this right from any attempted congressional meddling.”