WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- Wednesday morning, D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells held a press conference to announce legislation to decriminalize "small amounts of marijuana" in the city.
Wells made the announcement at Community Family Life Services - in the 300 block of E Street, NW. It is a nonprofit organization that provieds housing, case management, employment counseling and other services.
SEE THE BILL HERE: http://on.wusa9.com/10NmbdZ
Under the bill, the penalty for the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana will be dropped to a civil penalty punishable by a $100 fine. Right now, the misdemeanor offense could lead to up to six months in prison and a $1,000 fine for an offender. The legislation introduced by Wells would also require juveniles caught with less than an ounce of marijuana to attend a drug awareness program and community service.
According to Wells' office, an American Civil Liberties Union report claims the District leads the nation in arrests for marijuana possession. The report found D.C. police made 846 arrests for marijuana per 100,000 residents in 2010, compared to 256 per 100,000 nationally. The report also showed racial disparities in arrests for marijuana possession in D.C., with more African Americans being arrested than Caucasians.
The Drug Policy Alliance and other community stakeholders called on council in a letter in June to end marijuana arrests in D.C. by eliminating all criminal and civil penalties for the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana. Wednesday, Grant Smith with the Drug Policy Alliance's Office of National Affairs said in a press release:
"The introduction of this legislation by Councilmember Tommy Wells is a positive step toward putting an end to marijuana possession arrests that cause irreversible harm to people's lives, disproportionately impact communities of color, and waste public resources...While this legislation is an important step in the right direction, Councilmembers should consider following in the footsteps of Colorado and Washington by legally regulating marijuana."
Smith added, "Ultimately, drug use is most effectively addressed as a health issue instead of as a criminal justice issue -- and this means that possession of any drug in D.C. should not be criminalized."
DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier also released a statement on Wednesday. In her statement, she said:
"Today, proposed legislation to decriminalize possession of an ounce or less of marijuana was introduced in Council. 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. In the meantime, it is important for the community to recognize that some of the information being used as an argument for decriminalization is flawed. As I believe our community members know, MPD has not prioritized marijuana arrests. Since day one, my priority has been combatting violent crime, and the District is safer as a result. Marijuana users are simply not being targeted in the manner suggested by a recent report from the ACLU and by many advocates for decriminalization."
See a list of all the legislation before council on Wednesday here: http://dccouncil.us/events/legislative-meeting7