Washington D.C. Steps Closer to Decriminalizing Marijuana

City council bill would reduce the penalty for possession of small quantities to a $25 fine

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A District of Columbia city council panel approved a bill Wednesday that would decriminalize marijuana in the U.S. capital, Reuters reports.

If passed, the legislation would reduce the penalty for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana to a mere $25 fine, and would bring Washington D.C. into line with a handful of cities and states that have already made possession a civil offense. The full 13-member council is expected to pass the bill, which has the support of nine members and Mayor Vincent Gray.

Marijuana has a particularly divisive history in Washington. An American Civil Liberties Union report in June found that the District of Columbia has a higher arrest rate for marijuana possession than any other state, and that black people were eight times more likely to be arrested for possession than non-blacks.

The bill’s supporters say decriminalization will reduce police and legal costs. Possession of any amount of marijuana currently carries up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

“This legislation represents a critical first step toward bringing D.C. law into step with public opinion and common sense,” Grant Smith, policy manager at the legalization advocacy group Drug Policy Alliance.

Colorado and Washington State voted in 2012 to legalize marijuana, and cities and states across the country have reduced penalties. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo indicated this month he is in favor of legalizing limited use of medical marijuana.

A recent Washington Post poll found that 63 percent of the district’s residents favor legalizing marijuana, up from only half four years ago.