DC City Council Gives Initial Approval to Marijuana Decriminalization

Today, members of the DC City Council voted in favor of the Simple Possession of Small Quantities of Marijuana Decriminalization Amendment Act, which removes criminal penalties for the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and reclassifies it as a civil infraction under DC law, punishable by a $25 ticket and no criminal record. Councilwoman Yvette Alexander was the only member who voted in opposition to this measure.

A 2012 analysis published by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland reported that DC possesses the highest percentage of marijuana possession arrests per capita in the nation.

However, prior to today’s vote, Council Chairman Phil Mendleson introduced an amendment to retain criminal penalties for marijuana possession offenses that involve public consumption. Despite concerns voiced by Councilmen Wells and Grosso, the amendment was adopted. If the measure is ultimately approved as amended, the public consumption of marijuana would remain a criminal offense subject to arrest and punishable by up to 60 days in jail and/or a $500 fine.

A final vote by the DC Council on this measure is expected to occur in early March. At that time, the council could also overturn Chairman Mendleson’s amendment. NORML and our allies are advocating for such change, as continuing to criminalize the public consumption of marijuana will only perpetuate the District’s record of racially disparate arrests.

Once approved by a second vote of the City Council, the legislation enters a 30-day review period by members of Congress.

DC RESIDENTS: Click here to contact the DC City Council and urge them to support this measure and to oppose the Mendleson amendment.

18 thoughts

  1. Does this include the Mall downtown or is that considered Federal property outside of the D.C. area?
    When is the Marijuana March?

  2. The Obama Administration has asked which federal prisoners should be granted clemency. Sign ASA’s petition urging Pres. Obama to help Jerry Duval and other imprisoned medical cannabis patients at AmericansforSafeAccess.org/clemency.

  3. Too bad they don’t have retail. Nothing says worldwide cannabis prohibition is over like cannabis coffeeshops in DC, no residency restrictions for consumers of age.

  4. To decriminalize it yet add the public consumption amendment pretty much nullifies the intent of the measure. Since there are testing methods available to law enforcement officers that can detect whether marijuana has been consumed within a short time period then an officer can easily make a case for public consumption and make the arrest. Also, to the anonymous commenter above, this measure doesn’t have to go before congress, because it’s only a DC city council issue.

    [Paul Armentano responds: Laws passed by the DC Council are subject to Congressional review.]

  5. Years ago when NORML was just hitting its stride so to speak, decriminalization was the “holy grail,’ that we were seeking.

    That was before we knew about the endocannabinoid system.

    Once you have a clear picture of the relationship between cannabis and homeostasis, suddenly, decriminalization, rather than full-blown legalization becomes a deadly form of surrender, rather than a type of progress or success.

    Schedule I status is an insult to every living being because it fails to acknowledge the power and role of the endoncannabinoid system and the role it plays in human health.

    Imagine self-medicating with cannabis for an endogenous cannabinoid-deficiency disorder and then being forced into treatment and having your medication taken away.

    That’s not progress. Decrim is the NEW third-way b.s. for sleazy politicians to grab onto.

    Just saying.

  6. so in the utopian village of the future where everyone lives in smoke free apartments, all outdoor spaces become public spaces, where does gramma go to smoke her pot? Cant go outside and stand by the door, can’t go in the park, can go in her car (she lives in a village remember and doesn’t drive). How far does she have to walk in the winter to smoke and enjoy her newly found freedom? Alcohol doesn’t pollute the air, so she can do that in her apartment. So this can’t be treated like alcohol in that respect. Having a public ban certainly restricts the freedom that the end of prohibition should bring.

  7. @ anomymous,
    “not with this Congress,”
    By November of this year we will finally have reached the legislative tipping point where more than half of the U.S. Population has voted for pro marijuana legislation. Under the C.S.Act of 1970, the President has the authority to deschedule the whole drug scheduling system, because Congress already gave the presidency that unconstitutional authority. So even if we elect a gridlocked Congress again this year, and it’s Obama’s last quarter, what does he care if descheduling cannabis boosts Democratic votes?
    And even if neither the President or Congress deschedules marijuana and remains prohibitionist, the Supreme Court could vote the C.S.Act down as unconstitutional for allowing executive authority to legislate drug policy. The Supreme court is pro marijuana, they just repeatedly refused to hear a drug case until the majority of states wrote pro marijuana policies. The Supreme Court is the last resort for legalization at the Federal level as they will not interfere with State’s rights and prefer to allow Congress to… (now don’t laugh)… do their job. Of course it was Congress NOT doing their job and giving it to whole executive branch that got us into this mess called drug prohibition in the first place; (specifically cops, the DEA, the DOJ and the Presidency).

    Now on your post about the endocannabinoid system, I couldnt agree more. Decriminalization of what? Our own bodies? Im always fascinated by the tragic irony that the U.S. Government owns the patent on cannabinoids. What an ethical dilemma! Does that mean they own the cannabinoids we produce naturally in our pituitary glands and are dispersed throughout our major organs? Most certainly not. Should there be patents on any living things? Seeds? Embryonic cells? Plants? Microbes?
    We humans are a symbiotic development of life forms, without which we would lack nutrients, have a poor quality of life, be made vulnerable to immuno-deficiency or even die. There are bacteria we get from our mother’s breast the day we are born, without which we would die. Cannabinoids, whether for those who merely seek the peace of inner contemplation or suffer from lethal seizures, plays a similar symbiotic role between humans and the cannabis plant that cannot be further ignored.

    I just read through an Advanced Placement biology study guide from Curtis & Barnes, 5th edition, from Dr. Sieben’s class back in 1996 my senior year of high school. The endocrine system, the metabolic system and all three chapters on homeostasis and not ONE mention of the endocannabinoid system. ANYwhere. Of course 96 was the first year since the C.S.Act that any State had ever passed any pro marijuana law. (Thank you California). It was the first year scientists dared to release a report that the endocannabinoid system even existed.
    I still feel cheated out of a medical career.
    Ok, maybe I was paying too much attention to that hot, bored CzeckoSlovakian intern on that field trip to NIH, but that place was nothing but a prohibition lab too. Can you imagine? No, not the long-legged Czeck intern staring from under her eyelashes while she brushed her glasses across her lips and into her lab coat between her breasts… I mean can you imagine that our premier National Institutes of Health has been denying the medicinal value of cannabis all these years! (Yeesh! Get yer mind out of the gutter…)

  8. @telejnkie

    In the utopian village of the future,
    Gramma won’t have to leave her smoke-free apartment
    because she’ll be using a vaporizer to consume her cannabis INSTEAD of smoking it…

  9. I do not agree with decrim. ! it seems because it will still be ‘breaking the law’ and therefore employers will still be able to drug test…is that how it will be? no good to many then! i say this because our senior h.r. official at work included this content in the reasons for drug testing .our handbook has been re-written to include a provision for ‘following the law’.bullshit to me because that means we could be fired for a traffic violation…just cannot see that happening.complete bullshit! legalize cannabis!!

  10. @lockedoutofMyshed, Julian, and anonymous – I don’t like decriminalization either, but it’s still progress. Marijuana prohibition has existed in some shape or form in this country for at least 70 years. If you honestly think that we can change that overnight, then you are sadly unrealistic. Sorry, folks, but political progress doesn’t lend itself that well to instant gratification.

    It’s amazing that we’ve even gotten to the point where there are two states were marijuana is legal. And for D.C. to even consider decriminalization is a huge deal since the DEA and FBI are right down the street from DC Government offices. And the fact that over half of the U.S. population backs legislation is amazing and took a lot of time and effort. This change of opinion did not happen overnight either.

    If you take an all-or-nothing approach to this, then you run the risk of having no progress at all. We wouldn’t even have medical marijuana with this approach. It’s so easy to get impatient, but if you don’t appreciate just how far we’ve come or take the little steps towards progress (like decriminalization) that are needed, you risk losing it all. T

    The point is that you keep going. You don’t rest your laurels on one victory. You build on it and strive to go further.

    @Drew Vapormoore – not only is your point about using vaporizers instead of rolling joints is not only a great point, but it seems that telejnkie doesn’t know that any prefer edibles over smoking or vaporizing. Weed is an extremely versatile drug and although its best that Mendelson’s amendment be defeated, all is not lost. Really, it’s not that bad.

  11. “If you honestly think that we can change that overnight, then you are sadly unrealistic. Sorry, folks, but political progress doesn’t lend itself that well to instant gratification.” Der! We don’t want “progress” you dumbass, we want them to follow the law!!!! All that “progress” happened already and was rolled back under the CSA. The first thirty years of this bullshit was also illegal which is why it was reversed. This country doesn’t need a replacement for slavery–just sociopath need to beat up on people. We knew about these kinds of bullshit plans 300 years ago and wrote our Constitution making these abuses flat-out illegal. The only “thing” that seems to be keeping prohibition in place is the fact the goons keep lying–which should bring a contempt charge at the least. Asking for us to slow down on “expecting the police to carry out their duties without breaking the law” is someone looking to get abused.

    A pendejo.

  12. An iconic moment rests in this nations reversal of federal disrespect for the healthcare industry. Lets cease the draconian intolerance towards cannabis by removing its ties to illegal drugs like cocaine, lsd, etc,,

  13. the biggest part of getting caught for possession is not being able to get a job. with drug testing in place, what does the criminal record show that the drug test won’t?

  14. To Paul Armentano. Would a march or rally in Washington do any good? If it would. Then why doesn’t Norml hold one? I would be there in a heart beat.

    [Paul Armentano responds: Rallies on Washington are expensive to organize and require months of serious planning in order to be successful. Further, rallies are typically used as tools to garner media attention, not changes in policy. Ongoing citizen lobbying efforts are ultimately more persuasive than a single coordinated media event. NORML intends to organize a lobby day on Capitol Hill later this year, but concerned citizens should individually be lobbying their elected officials about the need for marijuana law reform on a regular basis.]

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