Washington, DC's city council voted today to significantly ease marijuana laws in the district. By a near unanimous vote, the council ruled that possession and private consumption of the drug in small amounts would be decriminalized. Mayor Vincent Gray is expected to sign the bill into law. The District of Columbia will soon join 17 states that have decriminalization laws on the books and becomes one of the most lenient cities in the country with regard to weed.
Possession will now result in a fine of $25
Previously, public consumption and possession of an ounce or less of marijuana were both criminal offenses that carried hefty fines of $1,000 or six-month prison sentences. Advocates stated that these penalties fell disproportionately on African Americans in the capital, with a 2013 study by the Washington Lawyers' Committee stating that "nine out of 10" arrests for possession involved African American residents. When the bill goes into effect this summer, possession will be deemed a civil offense with a light fine of $25. Public consumption is still considered a misdemeanor, though, with a maximum fine of $500 or 60 days in jail.
Marijuana advocates like the DC-based Marijuana Policy Project expressed their approval of the bill after it passed. "This means that, outside of Washington and Colorado, marijuana penalties are now less punitive in our nation’s capital than anywhere else in the country!" wrote Dan Rifle, director of federal projects at the MPP. Council member Tommy Wells, chief sponsor for the bill, hopes that the bill will help bring about necessary change, telling CNN, "This is a major step since we are the nation’s capital, and I am proud of that."