D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray has signed a bill removing criminal penalties for marijuana possession and instead imposing a civil fine of $25.
Currently, anyone caught with a misdemeanor amount of the drug could be forced to pay up to $1,000 in fines and stay six months in jail. Under the new law, which was passed by the D.C. Council last month, smoking pot in public would still be a crime.
Marijuana decriminalization legislation was introduced after the publication of an American Civil Liberties Union report highlighting the disparate rates of arrests of blacks over whites for marijuana possession in the District. The report last year stated that blacks were arrested eight times as often as whites for the offense, even though rates of use among both races were thought to be similar.
"This is a victory for the District and a victory for justice," said D.C. Council member Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat and sponsor of the bill. "This bill is a tremendous stride to end the disproportionate sociological and economic impact of marijuana arrests on African-Americans — arrests that pull families apart and keep our residents from jobs, higher education and housing opportunities."
The District joins 17 states with some form of decriminalization on the books. Two states, Colorado and Washington, have fully legalized the sale and recreational use of marijuana.
While the review period for most D.C. bills takes 30 legislative days, the marijuana bill will undergo a 60-day review because it changes the city’s criminal code. During that time, federal lawmakers could file a disapproval resolution that both chambers of Congress and the president would have to approve in order to block the measure.
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