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D.C. Legislator To Introduce Marijuana Legalization Bill

Under the bill, marijuana possession and use would be legal for anyone over the age of 21.
Matthew Kenwrick: http://www.flickr.com/photos/58847482@N03/5396653671/
Under the bill, marijuana possession and use would be legal for anyone over the age of 21.

If one D.C. legislator has his way, marijuana will soon be legal in D.C.

D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At Large) announced today that he will introduce a bill that would legalize, tax and regulate the sale and possession of marijuana. The bill will be introduced next Tuesday at the Council's first legislative session after its two-month summer recess.

Under the provisions of the bill, there would be no penalty—criminal or civil—for the possession or use of marijuana by anyone over the age of 21. Additionally, the the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) would be empowered to license businesses to produce, process and sell marijuana, and the city would impose a 15 percent excise tax on the sale of marijuana and marijuana products.

The bill comes in the wake of reports earlier this summer tallying the impact of marijuana arrests, which primarily affect young black residents. The city's arrest rate for marijuana is the highest in the country, according to the ACLU, and black residents are eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession.

In July, Council members Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) and Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) introduced a bill that would make the possession and use of small amounts of marijuana a civil, not criminal, offense. But in an interview, Grosso said that decriminalization alone doesn't go far enough.

"I'm in the camp of people that thinks that decriminalization will only increase demand, and if you don't have a mechanism to sell it in a safe and regulated way, the demand is going to cause more and more arrests. I'm trying to get in front of that and stop having the excuse to arrest people," he said.

Grosso said he's also planning on moving a related bill to seal the records of anyone convicted of a non-violent misdemeanor or felony charge of possession of marijuana.

"My theory is that if we're going to make marijuana legal, we should just do something to make up for all those years that someone had to live with a felony or misdemeanor charge," he said. As part of that bill, residents would no longer have to include the conviction on job or housing applications.

D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier has expressed skepticism over any moves to lessen penalties on marijuana, saying in July, "This is a significant issue that merits robust discussion on a broad spectrum of issues, including concerns about the risk to children with increased access, the health impact of increasingly potent plants, and conflict with federal laws."

D.C. Attorney General Irv Nathan recently expressed similar concerns over D.C. police ignoring violations of federal marijuana laws, though in late July the U.S. Department of Justice clarified that it would not prioritize marijuana enforcement in states that have moved to decriminalize or legalize it.

If Grosso's bill stalls in the Council or is blocked by Congress, the city voters may still have a chance to weigh in on the issue: last week a local activist announced plans for a ballot initiative in November 2014 that would legalize marijuana.

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