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D.C. Passes Marijuana Decriminalization as Step Toward Racial Justice
WASHINGTON, DC – On March 4, the District of Columbia City Council passed legislation to remove criminal penalties from the possession of marijuana in amounts of one ounce or less. The bill would treat such possession as a civil offense, and awaits approval by Mayor Vincent Gray and then Congress. The vote was 10 to 1 with one abstention.
"This vote is proof: The people of Washington, DC, are tired of living in a city where a Black person is eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, despite similar rates of use," said Seema Sadanandan, Program Director at the ACLU of the Nation's Capital. "This legislation is a victory for racial justice — a crucial step towards eliminating racial profiling in the enforcement of drug laws and the disproportionate punishments suffered by people of color in this city."
Racial justice was at the forefront of the public debate leading up to today's victory, particularly the severe racial disparities in arrests in the District for marijuana possession revealed by The War on Marijuana in Black and White (see PDF), a report released last June by the ACLU, and findings in Racial Disparities in Arrests in the District of Columbia, 2009-2011 (see PDF), issued in July by the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.
Ezekiel Edwards, Director of the ACLU's Criminal Law Reform Project, commented, "With its decriminalization bill, Washington, DC, joins the ever-growing number of cities and states enacting marijuana reform. We look forward to the day when the whole country has rejected marijuana prohibition and the unfair burdens it places on people of color."
Under the Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014 (Council Bill 20-409), police would fine a person $25 for possessing an ounce or less of marijuana, while also requiring forfeiture of the marijuana and any paraphernalia connected to personal consumption or transport.
The ACLU and the ACLU of the Nation's Capital are grateful to Councilmember Tommy Wells and the other city council members for their work on this important bill.
Racial Disparities in Arrests in the District of Columbia, 2009-2011