Members of the District of Columbia City Council, on February 4th, gave initial approval to B20-0409 : The Simple Possession of Small Quantities of Marijuana Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2013 to significantly reduce marijuana possession penalties in the District. The only council member voting in opposition to this legislation was Councilwoman Alexander. This legislation must receive a second vote of approval by the full Council before being sent to the mayor’s desk for his signature. That vote is expected to take place in early March.
Under present law, possession of any amount of marijuana is a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to 6 months incarceration and a maximum fine of $1,000. Passage of this act eliminates criminal penalties and replaces them with a civil fine of $25 for possession and $100 for public consumption — no arrest and no criminal record.
However, a newly adopted amendment to this legislation, introduced by Chairman Phil Mendelson, maintains criminal penalties in cases that involve the public consumption of cannabis. NORML and our allies will be advocating to repeal this amendment before the bill’s final approval, as continuing to criminalize the public consumption of marijuana will only perpetuate racially disparate arrests in the District and have an adverse impact on the communities this measure was supposed to help most.