News / USA

Washington, DC Moves Toward Marijuana Decriminalization

Jeff Swicord
After Colorado and Washington State legalized marijuana for recreational use, other states and cities around the country began taking a fresh look at their own marijuana laws. Some are bowing to political pressure to fully legalize marijuana, which recent polls indicate a majority of Americans support.

Others, like Washington, D.C., are leaning more toward only decriminalizing the drug. If it does, the city would join 17 states with similar laws.

The Washington, D.C. city council is moving forward with a bill to decriminalize marijuana. The bill would change the penalty for possession from a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail, to a simple $25 fine. But it would leave criminal penalties for smoking in public.

Councilmember David Grosso, a supporter of the bill, said, “Putting people in jail is no longer the solution to this problem. I think the war on drugs has really failed. And what we need to do is to find a way to heal our communities from that and to make sure that people are no longer being thrown in jail for non-violent offenses.”

Lone dissenter

Councilmember Yvette Alexander was the lone dissenter in a preliminary vote. She is concerned the bill would make Washington a top drug market.

“It will increase more attraction to this area for the sale of drugs. Because the purchase of drugs has little to no repercussion,” she said.

Supporters argue decriminalization will cut law enforcement costs and address racial disparities recently outlined in a report by the American Civil Liberties Union, which advocates for American civil rights.  

The report found people of color are eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession in Washington, even though usage rates are often higher in certain white communities.

Washington attorney Paul Zuckerberg has represented marijuana defendants for 28 years.

“We are arresting 6,000 people a year for simple marijuana possession," he said. "D.C. leads the nation in marijuana arrests per capita. And we also lead the nation in racially-biased arrests.”

Drug policy reform

Decriminalization advocates say racial disparities in arrests are a nationwide problem and threaten a generation of black Americans with the stigma of criminal records.  

“Besides the arrests there is the fact that they have the scarlet letter [permanent stigma]," said Bill Piper, who is with the Drug Policy Alliance which calls for drug policy reform.  "And it is with them for the rest of their lives, which makes it hard for them to get jobs, makes it hard for them to get housing.”

City Council Chairman Phil Mendelson voted for the decriminalization bill, but he thinks the racial disparities argument is the wrong reason to change the law.

“I think that is a false argument. To be sure, if there are discriminatory practices in policing, we should vigorously investigate and put an end to that," he said. "But that is not the basis of whether something should be a crime or not. And, in fact, most members of the council don’t support criminalizing drug use.”

The bill faces another city council vote before it goes before Mayor Vincent Gray.  Then, it must be approved by the U.S. Congress which oversees laws in Washington, D.C.

You May Like

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: BossIlluminati
February 11, 2014 10:07 AM
the greatest plant in the universe is almost free, LET FREEDOM RING!!!13

from 0 states to half the country, from low 20% approval to almost 70%, cali runs this planet by 2 decades, time to tie marijuana to the 2014, and 2016 elections

20 years behind us southern states, sad and scary....nobody denies freedoms like the south, nobody...even if marijuana reforms did pass the republiCANTS in charge would deny you all your freedoms, centuries of practice...no matter though, we never planned on getting your backwards brethren from day one, half the country already but not one southern state, lol...

love and freedom forever

AMERICA'S WAR ON DRUGS IS A WAR ON AMERICANS!!!33
In Response

by: mjissafer
February 27, 2014 10:26 AM
Anon, please note that all D.C. Council Members are Democrats, as well as the mayor. That is why there is only one dissenting voice.
In Response

by: Anon
February 12, 2014 2:44 PM
Mr. Illuminati,

Please note that "lone dissenter" of the bill, Yvette Alexander, is a Democrat.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs