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Bill would decriminalize weed in D.C.

Thursday - 10/24/2013, 11:07am  ET

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From left to right, D.C. Council members Tommy Wells, Marion Barry and David Grosso at Wednesday's public hearing about a bill that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in the city. (WTOP/Michelle Basch)

Reaction from residents is mixed

WTOP's Michelle Basch reports.

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WASHINGTON - Under a new bill in the D.C. Council, getting caught with less than an ounce of marijuana in the nation's capital would no longer be a crime.

Instead, the offender would get a ticket and pay a $100 fine.

For juveniles under age 18, it would mean their parents would be notified and they'd have to attend a drug awareness program.

A public hearing on the bill Wednesday night drew a standing room only crowd to a meeting room at the Anacostia Neighborhood Library in Southeast.

"Arrests for marijuana possession creates a permanent record that adds obstacles to success," said Councilmember and mayoral candidate Tommy Wells, who introduced the bill. "Make no mistake, being arrested today for simple possession of small amounts of marijuana can seriously affect a person's life. Even if a case is dropped or dismissed the arrest record remains, and these arrests are all too frequent and pervasive."

In addition, Wells, D-Ward 6, said the way the current law is used is racially unfair.

"Our black and white residents use marijuana at similar rates, but our black residents are eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana use than white residents," he said.

"We have hundreds of young black boys and a few girls who have been arrested in this city for a bag or two of marijuana, which means they're going to have a criminal record," added Councilman Marion Barry, D-Ward 8.

A recent study by the American Civil Liberties Union found D.C. had a higher per capita arrest rate for marijuana use than any state.

The public hearing on the bill will continue at 11:30 a.m. Thursday at the John A. Wilson Building.

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