Washington DC lessens pot possession to civil infraction

A new District of Columbia law that reduces the penalty for having up to an ounce of the drug to a $25 ticket. The offense is now a civil infraction, like littering, which carries a fine three times as high. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/18/us/25-penalties-for-marijuana-go-into-effect-in-the-capital.html?ref=us
An ounce can be the equivalent of dozens of marijuana cigarettes. Possession of more than an ounce remains a crime — an acknowledgment that drug dealers are more likely than recreational users to be carrying that much — and carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Until Thursday, that same penalty applied to possession of an ounce or less.
Marijuana has been legal in the city for medicinal use since 2010.
Selling and using marijuana in public remain a crime, a fact that the Metropolitan Police Department emphasized on a new web page and on business-card-size handouts that officers began distributing. “One popular misconception we have often heard in the community is that the district has legalized the possession or use of marijuana,” Gwendolyn Crump, a police spokeswoman, wrote in an email. “This is absolutely not true!”
In Columbia Heights, a gentrifying and ethnically diverse neighborhood, many residents were already aware of the specifics of the new law. Tyrone McEachin, 60, who was waiting for a bus, recited the details he said he had learned by watching the news: the $25 fine, the one-ounce limit and the distinction between possession and public use.
“From my understanding, now a person can smoke marijuana,” he said. “He just can’t smoke it out in the open.”
In light of the minor penalty, Mr. McEachin, who said he had served jail time for marijuana-related offenses, was one of many residents who saw the new law as a step toward legalization. The city’s Board of Elections is expected to announce next week whether a separate measure legalizing personal possession and cultivation will be on the ballot in November.
Ace Parsi, 32, said he was in favor of legalizing marijuana because it would free the police to pursue more serious crimes. “I think we have a system that puts far too many people in jail for too minor of a crime,” he said.
Marijuana possession remains a federal crime, a fact that is likely to cause conflicts in a city with an abundance of federal land, like the National Mall, the Capitol complex and monuments like the Jefferson Memorial. Robert MacLean, the acting chief of the United States Park Police, said at a House hearing in May that an individual carrying marijuana on federal land in the city could face a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $5,000 fine.
The new law went into effect at the end of a 60-day review period, when Congress could have overruled it by a joint resolution of the House and Senate — a difficult hurdle. House Republicans, who are unhappy with the new law, instead passed a spending bill on Wednesday that would block funding for it. But the measure is unlikely to pass the Senate, and President Obama threatened to veto it as he warned Congress not to interfere in the city’s laws.
The law also poses challenges for the local police. Unless an officer believes someone is driving under the influence, the smell of marijuana is not considered evidence of a crime, and possessing up to an ounce of the drug is insufficient justification for a search warrant. Ms. Crump, the police spokeswoman, said officers must undergo training on the law before making any arrests.
City lawmakers voted for the change in March after a study last year found that a disproportionate number of black residents were being arrested under the district’s marijuana laws. The city joins 16 states that have decriminalized some possession of marijuana, although its $25 penalty is well below others’ fines, according to Norml, an advocacy organization.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: