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 Tuesday, MPP unveiled a series of billboards surrounding MetLife Stadium, site of the upcoming Super Bowl, that have been getting a lot of attention. These ads highlight the fact that marijuana is objectively safer than both alcohol and football, and call on the NFL to stop punishing players for using the safer option.
This is especially noteworthy this year, as the two teams playing in the Super Bowl are the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos, both of whose home states made marijuana legal for adults in 2012.
On Wednesday, MPP’s Mason Tvert presented a Change.orgpetition calling on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to get rid of the policy of punishing players for using marijuana. The petition currently has more than 12,000 signatures.
A city ordinance in Portland, Maine went into effect last Friday, December 6th that will allow those individuals who are 21 and over to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana. The government passed the ordinance in November, while similar ordinances passed in three cities in Michigan. While residents are still subject to state and federal laws regarding marijuana possession, they sent local law enforcement a clear message about their priorities: voters in Portland do not want penalties associated with marijuana possession. Unfortunately, the Portland Police Department has not listened.
There were only 54 marijuana citations given out last year in Portland. While Mayor Brennan expects the number to decrease this year, Police Chief Michael Sauschuck wants his officers to continue to use their own discretion when deciding whether or not to issue marijuana citations pursuant to state laws, just as they have always done. Even though the police have handed out a modest number of citations in the past, their refusal to change their policies disregards the will of the voters. Furthermore, studies show that police officers arrest minorities at disproportionately high rates for marijuana possession, an inequality that citizens and legislators can combat by actually removing penalties associated with possession.
On Tuesday, the American Medical Associationannouncedthat while they still consider marijuana a dangerous drug and a public health concern, federal efforts to curb marijuana use are ineffective. The organization recommended continuing the criminalization of marijuana sales but suggested that marijuana use be treated with a public health approach rather than incarceration. The AMA also stated that they would be paying close attention to Colorado and Washington as they begin to implement regulated cultivation and retail marijuana sales.
“We are sorry to hear they wish to stay the course in enforcing this failed policy, but we are pleased to hear they are interested in reviewing the potential benefits of the laws passed in Colorado and Washington to regulate marijuana like alcohol,” said Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. “Any objective analysis of marijuana will confirm that it is far less harmful than alcohol. If the AMA is truly concerned about public health and safety, it should support a policy in which adults are able to make the safer choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol.”
Most Americans agree that marijuana is safer than alcohol and should be treated as such. The AMA is quite right that incarcerating marijuana users fails to curb use and creates more harm to the individual and society. Part of treating marijuana as a public health issue, however, is removing the marijuana market from criminal control by regulating retail sales for responsible adults.
Yesterday, Washington finalized the rules that will regulate the sale of recreational marijuana throughout the state. The Liquor Control Board outlined the regulations following a year of research, debate, and hearings. The result is a system very similar to Colorado’s. It requires seed to sale tracking, child resistant packaging, quality control testing done by a third party, and other safeguards. The regulations also require background checks for potential storeowners, a ban on out of state funding, and prohibit anyone from holding more than three store licenses. Beginning November 18, the Liquor Control Board will accept applications for the 334 licenses available throughout the state of Washington.
The pressure on the Liquor Control Board is high as many state legislatures view Washington and Colorado as tests for the possibility of a tax and regulate policy in their own states. Key players in finalizing the rules commented to USA Today:
“We feel very proud of what we’re doing,” said Sharon Foster, chairwoman of the Washington Liquor Control Board, as she and her two colleagues approved the rules. “We are making history.”
“What the Liquor Control Board has done is build a template for the responsible regulation of marijuana,” said Alison Holcomb, the Seattle lawyer who drafted Washington’s marijuana initiative. “This is a template that is going to be reviewed by other states, and already is being reviewed by other countries.”