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

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