D.C. pushes to decriminalize marijuana

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WASHINGTON – A majority of D.C. City Council members and Mayor Vince Gray support removing local criminal penalties for marijuana possession, which could lead to hundreds fewer arrests each year.

The D.C. proposal would make the local law’s penalty a civil fine of $25 or $100 depending on whether the person accused simply had possession of the (non-medical) marijuana or was actively smoking it. The measure would eliminate criminal penalties for people who possess one ounce or less of marijuana. Instead, they would be fined and the drug would be seized.

Currently under D.C. law, possession of any amount of marijuana is a misdemeanor offense that carries a penalty of up to six months in jail and a fine up to $1,000.

Federal law would still provide for potential prison time.

The bill is being taken up Wednesday by the D.C. Council’s public safety committee.

Currently under D.C. law, possession of any amount of marijuana is a misdemeanor offense that carries a penalty of up to six months in jail and a fine up to $1,000.

The American Civil Liberties Union found last year that D.C. has a higher number of pot arrests per person than any state at 846 per 100,000 people. Maryland had the fourth-highest of the jurisdictions at 409 per 100,000 people.

Supporters of a change in the law point to racial disparities in arrests, with more black people arrested for marijuana offenses than caucasians.

Nationwide, the FBI estimates there were about 725,000 marijuana arrests in 2011, far more than for any other illegal drug. Approximately 630,000 of those arrests were for possession of pot.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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