D.C. To Vote on RECREATIONAL MARIJUANA
AÂ D.C. CouncilÂ member plans to introduce legislation next week that would legalize and regulate the sale of marijuana for recreational use in the nationâs capital â the latest in a series of proposed steps to loosen the Districtâs drug laws.
Ten of the cityâs 13 council members have signed on to a bill that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, virtually assuring some type of reform in the near future.
On Tuesday, a seniorÂ Justice DepartmentÂ official is scheduled to address aÂ Senate committeeÂ on the decision not to block legalization of recreational marijuana use in Washington and Colorado, which was approved through referendums last year.
But passage of a similar law in the District likely would test the boundaries of theÂ Obama administrationâs willingness to look the other way â with even pro-pot activists carefully considering their strategy in the federal governmentâs backyard.
D.C. CouncilÂ memberÂ David Grosso, who plans to introduce legalization legislation when the council returns from summer recess Sept. 17, said he will be monitoring remarks made at the hearing for guidance as he continues to work on the billâs final draft.
While the fervor surrounding legalization initiatives grows across the nation â with the Marijuana Policy Project announcing Monday its goal to legalize pot in 10 states by 2017 âÂ Mr. GrossoÂ said it might take a few attempts before such legislation could pass.
âIâm not holding my breath this year, but Iâm hoping to get the debate out there,â saidÂ Mr. Grosso, at-large independent. âIf weâre going to have alcohol legal in this country, I donât see any reason why we couldnât have marijuana legal.â
A step too far?
WhileÂ D.C. CouncilÂ members have demonstrated broad support for a bill that would decriminalize marijuana possession, the same cannot be said for legalization.
âThe motivation for decriminalization simply has been the issue of the war on drugs and the disproportionate impact on African-American youths getting criminal records,â saidÂ D.C. CouncilÂ memberÂ Tommy Wells, a sponsor of the decriminalization bill. âThe impetus behind legalization would be, âThis substance is OK and should be regulated.â Thatâs fundamentally a different initiative.â
Mr. GrossoÂ said his bill would outline a tax and regulatory scheme for marijuana sales, allow residents to grow small amounts of the drug on their property, and establish licensing and enforcement requirements to be handled by theÂ Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration.
The decriminalization bill before theÂ councilÂ would make possession of an ounce of marijuana or less a civil violation punishable by a $100 fine and require forfeiture of the drug.
Excluding Colorado and Washington, 15 states have some form of marijuana decriminalization on the books, according to the Marijuana Policy Project. But no single standard exists. In Nevada, a 2001 law classifies possession of up to an ounce of marijuana as a misdemeanor on first offense, and a violator can be fined up to $600. In Vermont, which adopted decriminalization laws this year, possession of up to an ounce of marijuana counts as a civil infraction, and a violator can be fined $200.
TheÂ Obama administrationÂ last month gave a tepid nod to legalization laws in Washington and Colorado, with Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. telling those statesâ governors that he wonât sue to block their laws. TheÂ Justice DepartmentÂ also issued guidance to its prosecutors nationwide telling them to put average users at the low end of their priorities.