Moments ago, the Washington, D.C. City Council voted to decriminalize marijuana possession!
The measure removes criminal penalties for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana for individuals 18 years of age and older and replaces them with a civil fine of $25, similar to a parking ticket. It also removes penalties for possession of paraphernalia in conjunction with small amounts of marijuana, and it specifies that individuals cannot be searched or detained based solely on an officer’s suspicion of marijuana possession. Public use of marijuana would remain a criminal offense punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a fine of up to $500. Currently, possession of any amount of marijuana is a criminal offense punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
The bill goes into effect this summer.
This means that, outside of Washington and Colorado, marijuana penalties are now less punitive in our nation’s capital than anywhere else in the country.
Washington, D.C. has the nation’s highest arrest rate for marijuana possession, according to a report released in June by the American Civil Liberties Union. Blacks accounted for 91% of marijuana possession arrests in the District, and they were eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, despite using marijuana at similar rates. The ACLU’s analysis concluded that enforcing marijuana possession laws, which make up nearly half of all drug offenses, costs the District more than $26.5 million per year. Hopefully, this new bill will have an immediate impact on this injustice.
On March 1, MPP officially began lobbying for marijuana policy reform directly in the Texas legislature. Over the next several years, we will be working with supportive lawmakers and local advocates to remove the threat of jail for simple possession of marijuana, and eventually end marijuana prohibition altogether in the Lone Star State.
Iowa Rep. Bruce Hunter has introduced legislation that would decriminalize simple possession of marijuana. Under current law, those found with under 42.5 grams of marijuana can be arrested and face both heavy criminal fines and jail time. HF 2313 would replace these penalties with the issuance of a simple misdemeanor citation of $300. There would be no arrest and no threat of jail time.
Seventeen states have removed the threat of jail time for the possession of modest amounts of marijuana. Many of these states, including Minnesota, made these changes as far back as the 1970’s. In fact, just yesterday, Richard Bonnie – former director of the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse and policy advisor to the Nixon, Ford, and Carter administrations – submitted testimony in support of a similar proposal in Maryland.
“The first day of legalization, that’s when Colorado experienced 37 deaths that day from overdose on marijuana,” [Annapolis Police Chief Michael] Pristoop said in testimony at Tuesday’s Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee hearing. “I remember the first day it was decriminalized there were 37 deaths.”
Apparently Chief Pristoop didn’t know that marijuana was already being used widely in Colorado, just like in every other state, and that it is impossible to die from a marijuana overdose.
Maybe Pristoop was truly ignorant of these facts, in which case he probably shouldn’t be testifying in support of continuing Maryland’s failed marijuana prohibition. Or maybe, like law enforcement bosses in Minnesota and around the country, he’s just worried about his budget.
As more and more Americans support ending marijuana prohibition and an increasing number of states consider marijuana policy reform legislation, it is sometimes easy to forget that there are still a lot of people in prison for marijuana-related violations. As shocking as it may seem, some are slated to spend the rest of their lives behind bars for something that millions of Americans do every day and that people in Colorado and Washington do legally.
If you would like to know more about prisoners serving insanely long sentences for marijuana, please visit Life For Pot and share these stories with anyone who will listen. No on deserves to be arrested for a substance that is safer than alcohol, but putting people in cages indefinitely for it is inexcusable.