Reuters

How do you legalize drugs in the nation's capital?

The D.C. City Council voted today (10, to 1, with one member voting present) to decriminalize marijuana possession. Assuming D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and Congress don't kill the bill, marijuana possession of up to one ounce will be met with a $25 fine. 

Already, anti-legalization advocates, such Project SAM's Kevin Sabet, are downplaying the measure's significance. And make no mistake, even if low-level offenders aren't going to prison, they're coming into contact with the criminal justice system, not usually to their benefit.

But in D.C., there's also a really ugly race component to marijuana enforcement, which this bill could help mitigate. As Washington City Paper's Rend Smith reported last year, blacks in D.C. are disproportionately arrested for marijuana possession:

According to arrest numbers obtained from the Metropolitan Police Department and crunched by a statistician, between 2005 and 2011, D.C. cops filed 30,126 marijuana offense charges. A staggering number of those—27,560, or 91 percent—were filed against African-Americans. Only 2,097 were filed against whites.

This even though blacks and whites have similar marijuana consumption rates nationally.
 
The version that passed today does not decriminalize public consumption, which previous legislation would've discouraged with a $100 fine. The ACLU and the Drug Policy Alliance fought for the fine, but both Gray and D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier opposed it
 
The D.C. Cannabis Campaign, which pushed for the bill, wants Mayor Gray to impose a moratorium on pot arrests while Congress reviews the legislation, reports DCist. In the meantime, the campaign's Adam Eidinger is warning people against immediately and indiscriminately celebrating the bill's passage: 

Top image: Baz Ratner/Reuters

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A photo of a DART light rail train in Dallas, Texas.
    Transportation

    What Cities Are Getting Wrong About Public Transportation

    Cities could get more people walking, biking, and riding transit, according to a new report, if they just know where to look for improvement.

  2. A man charges an electric bus in Santiago, Chile.
    Transportation

    The Verdict's Still Out on Battery-Electric Buses

    As cities experiment with battery-powered electric buses, some are finding they struggle in inclement weather or on hills, or that they don’t have enough range.

  3. A photo of President Donald Trump showing off U.S.-Mexico border wall prototypes in March 2018.
    Perspective

    This Isn't a Border Wall: It's a Monument to White Supremacy

    Like Confederate monuments, President Trump’s vision of a massive wall along the Mexican border is about propaganda and racial oppression, not national security.

  4. Government workers and their supporters hold signs during a protest in Boston.
    Equity

    The Shutdown Is Screwing With Cities and Mayors Are Not Pleased

    Local officials are bracing for a confluence of funding crises barrelling toward transit, housing, food assistance, and … well, everything else.

  5. Inscriptions on a Confederate monument in Linn Park in Birmingham, Alabama.
    Equity

    Alabama Can’t Make Birmingham Display Confederate Monument

    The legal decision was monumental both for its dismantling of a pro-Confederate law and the implications for cities’ rights in the face of states’ rights.