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D.C. Council Gives Preliminary Approval To Bill Decriminalizing Marijuana

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Under the proposed bill, the possession of marijuana would be punished by a $25 fine — less than most parking tickets.
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Under the proposed bill, the possession of marijuana would be punished by a $25 fine — less than most parking tickets.

The D.C. Council has given initial approval to a bill decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The bill would make possession of an ounce or less of marijuana a $25 civil fine — less than a parking ticket. There would be no jail time and no criminal record.

But concern over widespread pot use in public caused Council members to add language to the measure keeping it a criminal offense to smoke marijuana in public. The penalty would be similar to open-container laws for alcohol.

The push for decriminalization gained steam after studies found that black D.C. residents make up a disproportionate percentage of those arrested for pot possession.

The bill's author, Council Member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), called it "a social justice bill" to address the failed war on drugs.

"The vast majority of people still smoke marijuana, it's against the law, it's just only one group is getting caught," he said.

The lone "no" vote during yesterday's hearing came from Council member Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7), who said that marijuana's illegality is proof that penalties should remain in place.

"The bill is all bad. Marijuana is criminal and it should stay that way until they legalize it, bottom line," she said.

Still, Alexander seemed resigned to fight a one-woman battle against the bill. "It looks like everyone is onboard, so lets have a smoke-in," she joked.

A second and final vote on the bill will take place later this month. More technical changes are expected as Council members raised several concerns with the bill's language, but the bill is expected to pass and be signed by Mayor Vincent Gray without any problems.

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