Just down the street from the DOJ in our nation’s capital, the D.C. Council stands ready to make history today. Taking a stand against the outdated prohibition on marijuana, the DC Council will vote their conscience, making Washington DC one of the nation’s most progressive cities for marijuana possession. Reducing the burdensome pot penalties which target African Americans, lessening their potential one-year jail sentence to a $25 fine.
Fearful over the skunky stench of pot drifting throughout the nation’s capital, the DC Council in recent weeks pulled back from an even more liberal motion to buffer residents from arrest: Smoking pot in public would remain a crime, similar to walking around with an open can of beer, and would carry a maximum penalty of up to six months in jail.
“It’s what I’d call the growing pains” of inching toward legalization, said Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), who led the charge against a broader measure to eliminate all criminal penalties, saying he did not want his daughter to encounter people smoking marijuana on city streets.
Thanks to the growing support locally and nationally for legalizing marijuana, D.C. lawmakers noted this push to decriminalize pot smoking is based on “social justice” when it comes to pot arrests — not civil liberties to allow more drug use. By cultivating their progressive marijuana legislation, the DC lawmakers are aggressively germinating the seeds of a national debate over legalization.
Just decriminalizing the simple possession of pot, while leaving the act of smoking the plant in public a crime, critics say, will keep alive concerns about racial profiling in arrests. It also will add gray areas in policing: D.C. officers would not be able to arrest on the smell of marijuana, for instance; they would have to see the smoke. And being marijuana-impaired in public would not be a crime equal to public intoxication — unless it occurs behind the wheel.