News & Politics

Mayor Gray Backs Marijuana Decriminalization, With Some Tweaks

The DC Council moved forward on making it a little less illegal to get high.

Marijuana decriminalization for the District got a big push forward today when government officials testified before the DC Council on a bill that would remove criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of the leafy substance. One of the city’s top lawyers said Mayor Vince Gray and Attorney General Irv Nathan support it.

The executive is eager to work with the DC Council on this bill,” Andrew Fois, one of Nathan’s deputies, told Council members Tommy Wells and Marion Barry. “Work with,” of course, meant that the executive branch has a few suggestions before giving its full support to decriminalizing pot.

Under Wells and Barry’s bill, people caught with one ounce or less would be issued a $100 fine instead of the arrest, court summons, and criminal record they receive now. Fois said Gray’s office would like to continue treating marijuana possession and use in school zones or parks as a criminal offense. But the mayor and attorney general also want to tweak the bill so that civil penalties issued to minors get sealed just like juvenile criminal records.

One proposed change that prompted opposition from Barry was Fois’s suggestion that people ticketed for marijuana use be required to show identification to police. Otherwise, he suggested, people could simply give their name and address as “Barack Obama at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.,” and the tickets would go unpaid like nearly 90 percent of littering tickets.

Barry also brought up a tweak of his own, suggesting that the decriminalization bill be amended to allow residents to grow three or four marijuana plants at home. Fois replied that he doubted that would affect the supply of weed flowing into DC, though pro-legalization advocates say home cultivation is a deterrent to the drug trade.

Still, the momentum is on the side of relaxing the District’s marijuana statutes. Fois’s testimony backed up Gray’s statement yesterday that he supports decriminalization, if not full legalization.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.