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A New Bill Could Make It Relatively Painless to Possess Marijuana in DC

Council member Tommy Wells has introduced legislation to decriminalize possession.

Tommy Wells, the Ward 6 member of the DC City Council and a candidate for mayor, on Wednesday proposed legislation that would decriminalize marijuana possession. Wells said he expects that a majority of the council members will back the measure. Ward 8’s Marion Barry introduced the bill with Wells.

Currently, anyone caught with marijuana faces misdemeanor charges, a possible $1,000 fine, and six months in jail. Under Wells’s bill, possession of up to an ounce of pot by individuals 18 and older would be subject to a civil fine of $100. Anyone under age 18 would face the same fine and be required to attend a drug and alcohol awareness program.

Advocates of decriminalization were quick to laud the legislation. “The District’s current policy of arresting and prosecuting thousands of adults for marijuana possession each year is doing far more harm than good,” said Morgan Fox, a spokesman for the DC-based Marijuana Policy Project, in a statement. “It is time to adopt a more sensible marijuana policy in our nation’s capital, and that is what Councilman Wells has proposed.” According to the American Civil Liberties Union, DC leads the nation in per capita marijuana arrests, ahead of New York and Maryland. DC police statistics cite a figure of nearly 4,300 marijuana possession arrests in 2011.

At-large council member David Grosso has said he wants to introduce an even more expansive piece of legislation that would legalize marijuana entirely and enable the city to regulate it and tax sales.

Wells believes the council will act quickly on his measure. Regardless, before it could be enacted it would still have to pass through the gates of congressional review, where Republicans could stop it before anyone gets a chance to inhale too deeply.

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