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D.C. to consider decriminalizing marijuana

Dylan Stableford, Yahoo News
Yahoo! News

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Carrying pot in the nation's capitol may soon not be a crime.

The Washington, D.C., City Council announced on Wednesday that it will consider legislation that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The "Simple Possession of Small Quantities of Marijuana Decriminalization Amendment Act," introduced by Councilman Tommy Wells, would remove criminal penalties for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. Those 18 and older would face a civil fine of $100 for possession of less than an ounce; those under 18 would be required to attend a drug and alcohol awareness program. Under the current D.C. law, possession of any amount of marijuana is a crime punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

"The effort to decriminalize marijuana is about removing barriers for individuals—the impact on their education, and their opportunities for employment," Wells said. "Current legal practices in the District impose a record that sticks with them for life, rather than imposing more sensible civil fines."

Pro-pot advocates welcomed the news. "It is time to adopt a more sensible marijuana policy in our nation's capital," the D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project said in a news release. "The District's current policy of arresting and prosecuting thousands of adults for marijuana possession each year is doing far more harm than good."

Washington has the country's highest arrest rate for marijuana possession. According to a report released last month by the American Civil Liberties Union, there were 846 marijuana arrests per 100,000 people in 2010—more than three times the national rate, or 256 per 100,000 people. (New York had the second highest, at 535.)

The council's proposal likely has something to do with a different kind of green. The District of Columbia money spends more per capita enforcing marijuana possession laws than any state in the country, the report found. The city spent $26.5 million in 2010 in police, judicial and jail costs enforcing pot laws, or more than $40 per resident.

There is also an extreme racial disparity in D.C.'s marijuana arrests. The ACLU report found that African Americans were more than 8 times more likely to be arrested for pot possession in Washington than white people — more than twice the national rate.

The push to decriminalize pot in D.C. appears to have public support. A poll conducted in April by Public Policy Polling found that 75 percent of D.C. voters support changing marijuana laws.

Washington, D.C. would join 17 states that have already decriminalized marijuana possession. Two — Colorado and Washington — voted last fall to legalize adult marijuana possession.

Among the council members supporting the bill is Marion Barry, Washington D.C.'s former mayor, who spent six months in jail after he was caught smoking crack cocaine.

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