It probably won’t help you if you were arrested for marijuana last night, or next week, but on March 4th the D.C. Council is scheduled a final vote on the District of Columbia’s first bill decriminalizing possession of less than one ounce of marijuana. So it’s legal after March 4th? No and no. Pot will still be illegal, and March 4th is not the date.
Decriminalization means that just having one ounce or less of marijuana will be treated as a civil offense – which means that you are still not allowed to have it, but the penalty is reduced to a civil infraction. Instead of arrest and prosecution, you will be ticketed and fined. No arrest (phew!) and no criminal record (major!). No need to hire a criminal defense lawyer either.
However, under new amendments to the Decriminalization Bill, smoking in public will still be a criminal offense, subject to arrest and prosecution. The public smoking ban has its supporters and detractors. Those against it argue that they don’t want people lighting up on public sidewalks, parks and street corners.
This is actually a policy page from the Amsterdam playbook, where public smoking is still prohibited, but private “coffee shops” are tolerated for inhaling. Reformers worry that a public smoking ban will mean continued enforcement in poor neighborhoods, where private indoor space is limited. Why smoke in public if you live in a mansion with hot tub and 90-inch flat screen? Reformers worry that the public smoking ban will perpetuate racially biased marijuana enforcement, which has led to 91% of those arrested in D.C. for pot people of color, the highest proportion of statistical bias of any state in the nation.
Even with its shortcomings, the new law is a huge step forward. A grass-roots reform movement had a blunt message for local D.C. politicians, and that message got through.
Let’s hope Police Chief Cathy Lanier and her force show some discretion and apply the criminal/public smoking provisions as rarely as possible.
Whether in public or private, March 4th is not decrim day anyway. If the new decriminalization law passes the D.C. Council, as expected, it must still await the signature of the Mayor (who has said he would sign), and then a 30 period of Congressional review. Then, and only then, will the 25$ marijuana citation tickets start flying. Stay tuned.