Yesterday, in an historic session, the D.C. Council voted 11-1 to decriminalize possession of personal use quantities of marijuana (up to one ounce). However, smoking marijuana in public would still be a criminal offense under the new law, as would driving under the influence. A final vote in the Council is scheduled for next month, and it will take several more months to become actually become law. For now, nothing has changed on the ground. Possession of a single joint in DC will still land you in jail, facing 180 days of incarceration.
Although reformers did not get all they wished for in the new decrim law, it still marks a huge improvement over the current system. The penalty for simple possession would be a civil fine or $25, the lowest fine in the nation. Smoking in public would be reduced from 180 days in jail to 60 days, but would still lead to arrest, prosecution and a criminal record.
D.C.’s reform places it miles ahead of neighboring Virginia and Maryland, which continue to follow zero tolerance. Maryland governor, and presidential hopeful Martin O’Malley, is a hard-core drug warrior, who has blocked reform for years. Virginia’s governor has been more interested in pushing Anatabloc, a drug made from the active ingredient of tobacco, than in marijuana law reform. So DC’s move to decriminalize, while not perfect, is a huge step forward.
Meanwhile, Paul Zukerberg continues his run to be D.C.’s first elected attorney general, where he will move away from the zero tolerance policies of the AG’s office, which has started so many young people on the “pipeline to prison.” Regardless of what the Council does, as AG Zukerberg will not criminally prosecute juveniles, if the only charge is simple possession of weed. Follow his campaign at http://www.votezukerberg.com