Legislation Would Make Small Amounts of Marijuana Legal to Purchase and Possess
Historic Introduction Follows U.S. Department of Justice Decision to Allow Taxation and Regulation to Proceed in Colorado and Washington State
Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) will introduce legislation today before the Council of the District of Columbia that would eliminate all criminal and civil penalties for the possession of small amounts of marijuana by adults over the age of 21 and provide the District of Columbia Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration with the authority to license and regulate the production and taxable sale of marijuana in the District.
"Marijuana prohibition has disproportionately criminalized black and brown people and wasted scarce law enforcement resources," said Grant Smith, policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance's Office of National Affairs. "Following the introduction of marijuana decriminalization legislation by Councilmember Tommy Wells, Councilmember David Grosso's proposal to tax and regulate marijuana will enhance efforts to provide District residents with relief from prohibitionist policies that have failed to curb the availability of marijuana to young people. Our nation's Capital would be wise to follow Colorado and Washington," said Smith.
Introduction of this legislation comes after recent developments elevated marijuana law reform as a major issue in the District. Over the summer, both the American Civil Liberties Union and the Washington Lawyers' Committee on Civil Rights and Urban Affairs released reports documenting enormous racial disparities in arrests for marijuana possession in D.C. In early July, D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) introduced legislation that would eliminate criminal penalties and impose a $100 civil fine for adult possession of up to one ounce of marijuana.
In late August, the Department of Justice announced that it would allow the states of Colorado and Washington State to implement ballot initiatives passed by the electorate last year that legalized the production, distribution, and sale of marijuana for adults. Additionally, a Department of Justice memorandum issued to U.S. Attorneys outlined priorities for federal prosecutors enforcing federal marijuana laws and noted that state regulation may further federal interests by reducing organized crime and making marijuana less available to youth. This Department of Justice guidance to federal prosecutors was the subject of an unprecedented hearing in the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary earlier this month.
A poll conducted in April by Public Policy Polling, commissioned by the Drug Policy Alliance and Marijuana Policy Project, found that more than 60% of D.C. voters in the survey would support a ballot measure similar to those approved by voters in Colorado and Washington. A solid majority (54%) said that all drug use should be treated as a public health issue and that people should no longer be arrested and locked up for possession of a small amount of any drug for personal use.
"As Councilmembers look to end marijuana possession arrests, they should also consider the broad human and fiscal toll that decades of failed drug prohibition has wrought on District residents," said Grant Smith, policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance's Office of National Affairs. "Ultimately, drug use is most effectively addressed as a health issue instead of as a criminal justice issue - and this means that a person should not be criminalized for possession of any drug in D.C.," said Smith.
A national survey released by the Pew Research Center in April found that, for the first time in its 40 years of polling on the issue, a majority of Americans (52%) support making marijuana legal. Similar national surveys conducted by Gallup and other polling firms have also found majority support for ending marijuana prohibition.