Washington, DC: A municipal ordinance took effect last Thursday reducing minor marijuana possession offenses in the District of Columbia from a criminal misdemeanor to a civil violation.
The new law amends District law involving the possession or transfer of up to one ounce of marijuana from a criminal misdemeanor (formerly punishable by up to 6 months incarceration and a maximum fine of $1,000) to a civil violation (punishable by a $25.00 fine, no arrest, no jail time, and no criminal record). Members of the DC City Council approved the change this past spring in response to data indicating that the District possessed the highest percentage of marijuana possession arrests per capita in the nation.
Although Congressman Andrew Harris (R-MD) has introduced language to undermine the implementation of this act, members of the Senate have so far failed to take up the issue. Representative Harris' plan is also strongly opposed by the White House.
The District's $25.00 fine-only measure is similar to existing 'decriminalization' laws in California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont where private, non-medical possession of marijuana is treated as a civil, non-criminal offense. Five additional states - Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio - treat marijuana possession offenses as a fine-only misdemeanor offense.
Three states - Alaska, Colorado, and Washington - impose no criminal or civil penalty for the private possession of small amounts of marijuana.
For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director, or Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director, at (202) 483-5500.