D.C. Council Votes to Decriminalize Small Amounts of Marijuana

The D.C. Council voted Tuesday in favor of a bill to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use.

Mayor Vincent Gray is expected to sign the bill into law. Then it will have to wait for the standard congressional review period before going into effect. Congress has rarely used its veto powers over D.C. laws.

House Speaker John Boehner said he's sure Congress will look at the law.

“I really haven't seen what the D.C. Council did, but I'm sure we'll look at it,” Boehner said.

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton said she does not expect Congress to interfere with the law.

"If Members try to interfere, however, I will stoutly defend D.C.’s right to pass such legislation, just as 17 states have already done," she said.

The vote was little more than a formality. The council had already approved decriminalization by an 11-to-1 vote. But before that initial vote, the council watered down the bill by maintaining criminal penalties for smoking pot in public.

Mayor Vincent Gray and Police Chief Cathy Lanier supported maintaining criminal penalties for public smoking.

If the bill becomes law, the district would join the 17 states that have some form of decriminalization.

Councilmember Tommy Wells, the bill's lead sponsor, said the district will have one of the nation's strongest decriminalization policies because the civil fine for possession will be just $25. However, he is concerned that racial disparities will persist among those arrested for smoking.

The vote was 10-1-1 with Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander casting the only "no" vote. Councilmember Vincent Orange voted "present," rather than casting an up or down vote. Councilmember Marion Barry remains at a rehabilitation center following a hospitalization last month and was not able to vote.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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