D.C. Council Votes To Eliminate Jail Time

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  D.C. Council Votes To Eliminate Jail Time

Posted by CN Staff on March 04, 2014 at 17:40:10 PT
By Aaron C. Davis 
Source: Washington Post  

Washington, D.C. -- Consuming marijuana in a private home will no longer be a criminal offense in the nation’s capital under a measure that passed the D.C. Council on Tuesday and that instantly escalated a simmering national debate over loosening marijuana laws.Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) intends to sign the measure, a spokesman said, putting District drug law in conflict with federal law. The signed measure will go to Congress, which has veto authority over D.C. laws but has organized to override only three times since 1979.
National advocates for marijuana legalization celebrated the 10 to 1 vote by the D.C. Council, expressing confidence that a divided Congress would fail to act to upend it, and more importantly, that the vote might reflect growing mainstream support for recreational use of the drug.Under the bill, D.C. would not go as far as Colorado and Washington state, where voters have legalized the sale and use of marijuana. Instead, the measure would put the District at the forefront of 17 states that have taken the partial measure to decriminalized marijuana, eliminating jail time for most offenses in favor of civil fines.In D.C., the fine for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana would be $25, a penalty smaller than found in any state other than Alaska. The bill would also equate smoking marijuana in public to toting an open can of beer; a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of $500 and up to six months in jail.“We are taking a significant step to correct the continuing social injustice caused by a failed war on drugs,” said Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), the lead author of the bill.Critics say that decriminalizing possession of marijuana — while leaving the act of smoking the drug a crime — will keep alive concerns about racial profiling in marijuana arrests. It also will add gray areas in policing: D.C. officers would not be able to arrest someone due to the smell of marijuana: they would have to see the smoke. And being marijuana-impaired in public would not be a crime equal to public intoxication — unless it occurs behind the wheel.“It’s what I’d call the growing pains” of inching toward legalization, said Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), who led the charge against a broader measure to eliminate all criminal penalties, saying he did not want his daughter to encounter people smoking marijuana on city streets.Advocates for the bill say it is still a strong measure that builds on similar laws passed in California and Massachusetts. For one, the D.C. bill would protect people who share marijuana from being prosecuted as dealers.The bill would also preclude D.C. police from charging people with possession or dealing if they simultaneously possess large amounts of cash and several bags of marijuana. Some advocates say that poorer residents are often paid for their work in cash and buy the drug in small amounts multiple times on their payday.Given the District’s overlapping web of local and federal law enforcement, it’s unclear whether federal agencies will agree. The District drug law would conflict with federal ones, and little is known about how federal agencies in the city would respond when they see people abiding by the District measure but violating federal statute.It would be legal under the District bill, for instance, to carry up to an ounce of marijuana split into dozens of bags, the drug paraphernalia to smoke it and an unlimited amount of cash. But under federal law, those conditions could be used to charge someone with possession with intent to distribute, potentially drawing years in prison and other steep penalties.Under President Obama, the Justice Department has not sought a confrontation with states, including Colorado and Washington, where voters have legalized recreational use of marijuana. Historically, the agency also has not devoted resources to prosecuting individuals for drug possession.Federal officers in the District do make arrests. Last year, the U.S. Park Police, which has jurisdiction over the Mall and nearly every park and traffic circle in the city, recorded 501 “incidents” involving marijuana.Park Police spokeswoman Lelani Woods said that since the D.C. measure has not been enacted, the agency has not formed a response. However, she said “there is nothing to suggest that this is going to be our standard,” Woods said.The measure passed a first vote in the council last month with only one dissenting vote. In recent days, a majority of council members said in interviews that they would support the bill in a final vote. The only remaining question appears to be whether Council member Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large) will succeed in adding a provision to outlaw drug testing by D.C. employers.Orange argued that more poor residents will smoke but end up being discriminated against for jobs because they will fail drug tests.With or without the amendment, the measure would face a 60-day review period by Congress.Wells said he is confident that the measure will become law.“I think that even a conservative Congress would leave this alone. An incredible waste of government resources goes into the criminalization of marijuana” by police, courts and jails, Wells said. “And it’s law that creates more public harm than public good.”Source: Washington Post (DC) Author:   Aaron C. DavisPublished: March 4, 2014Copyright: 2014 Washington Post CompanyContact: letters Website: URL:  -- Cannabis Archives 

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Comment #7 posted by FoM on March 05, 2014 at 07:25:00 PT
Storm Crow
Most definitely! It should be like my state at the least.
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Comment #6 posted by Universer on March 04, 2014 at 21:33:16 PT
Hear Sabet hang himself live on the air!
D.C.-area peeps! Wednesday's Kojo Nnamdi Show (12p-2p on WAMU 88.5 FM in D.C.) will feature a conversation with a Montgomery County legislator, an Eastern Shore sheriff, a thinktanker and the Duncemaster himself, Kevin Sabet. Tune in and comment! via laptop, tablet or smartphone at or
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Comment #5 posted by Storm Crow on March 04, 2014 at 21:31:11 PT
Equal protection under the law..
If a $25 fine is the norm for our nation's capital, shouldn't it be the norm for the country? 
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Comment #4 posted by FoM on March 04, 2014 at 19:59:58 PT

Lawmakers Clash with DEA Over Reclassify MJ
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Comment #3 posted by FoM on March 04, 2014 at 19:36:38 PT

I agree with you. No matter what, this is a win win for us.
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Comment #2 posted by Universer on March 04, 2014 at 19:27:57 PT

Two Possibilities, Same Benefit
One of two things will happen:Either Congress will leave it alone, and we will have virtual legalization within the Federal District of the most powerful nation on Earth,or Congress will stick its ugly nose in and veto it, giving us regulation advocates an immensely useful rallying cry that ours is a government bent not on freedom but on control and authoritarianism at all costs.Whichever way transpires, we win.O Happy Day.I live about 30 miles west of D.C. I may have to adjust that location some 30 miles.
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Comment #1 posted by FoM on March 04, 2014 at 18:09:56 PT

Drug Policy Alliance Press Release
D.C. Council Passes Far-Reaching Marijuana Decriminalization LegislationMarch 4, 2014In a vote today of 10-1, the D.C. Council approved legislation that would eliminate criminal penalties for the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana in the nation’s capital and treat possession as a civil offense. The legislation goes next to District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray who has expressed support for decriminalization. However, the legislation will not become law until Congress has completed a legislative review that may stretch into the summer months and is required under federal law. This legislation is viewed by both council members and advocates as a model for other jurisdictions looking to reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system.“For far too long, people of color have been disproportionately and unfairly arrested and marginalized for marijuana possession in the District of Columbia,” said Grant Smith, policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance. “D.C. Councilmembers took the first critical step today toward ending the selective enforcement of marijuana prohibition policies that have perpetuated racial disparities in the criminal justice system for decades.”Full Press Release:
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