When the clock struck midnight on Thursday morning, Washington D.C. joined 17 U.S. states in decriminalizing cannabis. In response to the needlessly harsh penalties and consistently racist enforcement of criminalization, the District of Columbia Council voted on this common sense measure, 10-1, and Mayor Vincent C. Gray signed it into law in March. Thursday marks the end of a 60-day Congressional review period, at which point the law goes into effect. Marijuana possession will now be treated more like a parking infraction than a criminal act within the nation’s capital.
The change is a dramatic one for Washington. Previously, simple cannabis possession could be life-altering: the punishment ranged up to 6 months in jail and a $1,000 charge. Now, possession of up to an ounce will carry no criminal charge, and will result in a $25 ticket (or a warning). Public use of cannabis can still be treated as a crime, with harsh penalties attached. Federal officers, such as the Capitol Police or U.S. Park Police, can still arrest people for marijuana possession under federal law (as opposed to city law)—a detail that exposes the growing rift between federal and local policies on cannabis. However, city police officers carry out the vast majority of marijuana arrests (now marijuana ticketings) in D.C.
The new law is great progress in mitigating the damage done by criminalization. An ACLU study found that African Americans in Washington D.C. were eight times as likely to be arrested as whites, despite comparable usage rates. The same study found that the city spent over $26.5 million annually on enforcing marijuana laws. That’s quite a cost to enforce a policy that profits gangs, has not been shown to reduce drug use or potency, keeps a medicinal plant away from people who could benefit from it, and that, unlike alcohol, has never directly killed someone in recorded history. While Washington’s cannabis laws are still far from perfect, they are vastly improved as a result of this measure going into effect.
– Read the entire article at AlterNet.