A D.C. councilman unveiled legislation Wednesday that would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana in the District.
Under the bill, which was introduced by Tommy Wells and seems to have the majority support of the Council, News4's Mark Segraves reported, criminal penalties will be eliminated for anyone caught with under an ounce of marijuana, leaving just a civil fine of $100.
“Possession of less than one ounce will no longer be a permanent barrier to individuals seeking employment; those caught with less than one ounce will no longer have their driver’s licenses suspended, will not be thrown out of public housing, and will not have their eligibility for public assistance revoked," Wells said. "They will not have their personal property subject to seizure and forfeiture simply because they are caught with less than one ounce of marijuana.”
Wells cited an ACLU report that D.C. police made 846 marijuana arrests per 100,000 residents compared to the national average of 256 such arrests, but D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier disputes that the department is waging a war on marijuana.
"It is important for the community to recognize that some of the information being used as an argument for decriminalization is flawed," read a statement from Lanier. "As I believe our community members know, MPD has not prioritized marijuana arrests. Since day one, my priority has been combatting violent crime, and the District is safer as a result. Marijuana users are simply not being targeted in the manner suggested by a recent report from the ACLU and by many advocates for decriminalization."
Several councilmembers co-introduced the bill, which is cosponsored by Councilman David Catania and Council Chairman Phil Mendelson. Mayor Vincent Gray has not taken a position on decriminalization.
In March, the Maryland Senate voted to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Under the bill, anyone caught with up to 10 grams (0.35 ounce) would receive a citation and a $100 fine instead of being arrested and charged with a crime.
Seventeen states have decriminalized possession of small amounts of pot. The earliest the law could be enacted is early 2014.