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Gray Signs Bill Decriminalizing Marijuana

Under the bill, D.C. residents caught with one ounce or less of marijuana would only face a $25 fine.
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Under the bill, D.C. residents caught with one ounce or less of marijuana would only face a $25 fine.

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray today signed a bill that decriminalizes the possession of small amounts of marijuana, putting the city alongside the 16 states that have taken similar steps.

The bill, which was introduced by Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) last year and passed by the D.C. Council earlier this month, eliminates criminal offenses for the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana. Anyone caught with marijuana under that threshold would be charged with a civil offense punishable by a $25 fine.

Support for the measure built after a 2013 report by the ACLU found that D.C. leads the nation in marijuana arrests, and that black residents are eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than their white counterparts.

It passed the Council on a 10-1 vote.

“This is a victory for the District and a victory for justice. This bill is a tremendous stride to end the disproportionate sociological and economic impact of marijuana arrests on African Americans — arrests that pull families apart and keep our residents from jobs, higher education and housing opportunities,” said Wells in a statement.

The bill now goes to Capitol Hill for a 60-day congressional review. Congress rarely blocks D.C. laws, but in 1998 it did stop the city from implementing a ballot initiative legalizing medical marijuana. If Congress does not formally disapprove the bill, it will take effect by the summer.

A group of residents is organizing to place an initiative on the November ballot that would fully legalize the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana and up to three mature plants.

The Maryland Senate recently passed a bill decriminalizing marijuana.

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