Marijuana Decriminalization Comes to D.C.

Having covered this bill’s progress through committee, I have to note its total victory. D.C.’s marijuana decriminalization proposal, introduced by Councilman Tommy Wells, has won a 10–1 approval vote and will head to the desk of Mayor Vincent Gray. (Wells and Gray will face each other in this spring’s Democratic primary for mayor.)

The bill was watered down slightly since I wrote about it. City Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (who, like Wells, is white) won on an amendment to keep the criminal penalty for smoking in public. Decriminalization will only extend to posession of an ounce or less of marijuana. But that’s what advocates were most concerned with—that’s the social justice issue.

“We should not be saddling people with criminal records simply for using a substance that is less harmful than alcohol,” said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project.

“This is a victory for social justice and a major step for the nation’s capital,” said Wells. “The evidence of racial disparities in arrests and the failures of the war on drugs are undeniable and the negative socioeconomic impacts on African American residents are indisputable.”