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Two D.C. Legislators To Push For Decriminalization Of Marijuana

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D.C. arrests thousands of people each year for marijuana-related crimes.
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D.C. arrests thousands of people each year for marijuana-related crimes.

Two D.C. councilmembers say they plan to introduce legislation that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The proposal from councilmembers Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) and Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) would have to overcome skepticism from the mayor and council chairman, along with scrutiny from Congress. They hope to introduce a bill by this summer.

Groups favoring decriminalization are considering a push for a referendum that would allow city voters to decide the issue, but Barry says he thinks the council should take the lead on decriminalization. In an April poll, 75 percent of D.C. residents would support making the possession of small amounts of marijuana a civil offense punished by a $100 fine; under current law, it can be punished by up the six months in prison and a $1,000 fine.

According to D.C. police statistics, close to 4,300 people were arrested for possession of marijuana in 2011 in D.C., up from the 2,150 that were arrested for the same crime a decade earlier. All told, marijuana-related arrests—including possession, distribution, conspiracy to distribute and possession with an intent to distribute—jumped from 3,487 in 2001 to 5,759 in 2011.

More than a dozen states have removed the threat of jail time for possessing small amounts of pot. 

Mayor Vincent Gray has said the District should focus on implementing its medical marijuana program before pursuing decriminalization. 

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