A bill that would legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana for adults over 21 and set up a system of regulated marijuana commerce was introduced in the District of Columbia city council Tuesday. Filed by Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large), the bill would give regulatory authority to the DC Alcoholic Beverages Regulation Administration.
The bill comes on the heels of a decriminalization bill introduced in July by Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward Six). That bill would eliminate criminal penalties for the possession of up to an ounce of weed by adults and replace them with a maximum $100 fine.
The proposals appear to reflect public opinion in the nation’s capital. An April Public Policy Polling survey that found 75% of District voters support decriminalization and more than 60% would support a tax, regulate, and legalize initiative similar to those that passed in Colorado and Washington last year. The same poll found a solid majority (54%) in favor of decriminalizing the possession of all drugs.
The release in June of an American Civil Liberties Union report on racial disparities in marijuana arrests has only upped the pressure. That report found that DC residents are arrested for marijuana possession at a higher rate than the residents of any state and that black DC residents are arrested at a rate far higher than white ones.
Councilmembers are looking over their shoulders as they move on marijuana law reform. DC activists emboldened by the local polling numbers as well as broader national trends are contemplating an initiative next year if the council fails to act.
“Marijuana prohibition has disproportionately criminalized black and brown people and wasted scarce law enforcement resources,” said Grant Smith, policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance Office of National Affairs. “Following the introduction of marijuana decriminalization legislation by Councilmember Tommy Wells, Councilmember David Grosso’s proposal to tax and regulate marijuana will enhance efforts to provide District residents with relief from prohibitionist policies that have failed to curb the availability of marijuana to young people. Our nation’s Capital would be wise to follow Colorado and Washington,” said Smith.
Smith also pushed elected officials to not stop with ending marijuana prohibition.
“As Councilmembers look to end marijuana possession arrests, they should also consider the broad human and fiscal toll that decades of failed drug prohibition has wrought on District residents,” he said. “Ultimately, drug use is most effectively addressed as a health issue instead of as a criminal justice issue — and this means that a person should not be criminalized for possession of any drug in DC.”