Unless Congress throws up an unexpected roadblock, possession of less than an ounce of marijuana in Washington, D.C., will soon no longer qualify as a big deal, punishable by only a $25 fine.
As expected, Democratic Mayor Vincent Gray on Monday signed a bill into law that decriminalizes pot in the nation’s capital.
The District of Columbia City Council passed the measure last month on a 10-1 vote.
Congress, which has the authority to overturn the law, must now weigh in. Members will have 30 working days to consider the matter, but no one’s expecting any opposition.
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“D.C. lawmakers heard loud and clear the public’s demand to end marijuana arrests and passed one of the strongest decriminalization laws in the whole country,” said Grant Smith, policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance, a pro-legalization group. “We don’t expect members of Congress to object to saving taxpayer dollars and advancing racial justice here in the nation’s capital.”
In pushing for the change, D.C. council members argued that the current penalty _ a fine of up to $1,000 and a possible six-month prison sentence for possessing any amount _ hit minorities disproportionately hard.
Studies show the District of Columbia has a higher marijuana arrest rate than any state, with blacks accounting for 90 percent of the arrests.
D.C. will join 17 states that have either decriminalized marijuana or legalized possession of small amounts, with Vermont the latest to eliminate criminal penalties, last year.