Marijuana decriminalization takes effect in DC

WASHINGTON (WUSA9) – Getting caught littering in the nation's capital will now cost you more than getting caught with a small amount of marijuana.

That's because D.C.'s Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Act takes effect on Thursday.

The new law will make possession of less than an ounce of marijuana only a civil violation – no arrest, no jail time, no criminal record. Only a $25 fine.

Under the previous law, the same offense was a criminal misdemeanor punishable by up to six-months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.

Enforcing the new law sounds simple. If you're caught carrying less than an ounce, D.C. police will pull out a ticket and check one of two boxes -- one for possession of marijuana with a $25 fine, the other for littering with a $75 fine.

But the chairman of D.C.'s Police Union calls the new law a convoluted mess that's creating confusion for its members.

"Either our members will make significant mistakes based on the changes in the law from their past practice and what they've known for years and years, or they'll do absolutely nothing because they're not clear about what they should be doing," said Delroy Burton, Chairman of the D.C. Police Union.

Under the new law, D.C. police are no longer allowed to take action when they simply smell marijuana. Nor can they require a person caught with less than an ounce to show their ID.

"This goes to how do I know who I'm dealing with and how do we hold those people accountable who are now breaking the law?" said Burton.

Adding to the confusing is the fact that D.C.'s new law is very different from the federal marijuana laws. If your caught carrying marijuana while walking down a street near Capitol Hill, no big deal. But if you simply step on the sidewalk and onto federal territory patrolled by U.S. Capitol Police, you could still be arrested and charged with a misdemeanor.

"We understand changes in the law can be confusing," says Gwendolyn Crump, a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police Department. "That is why we have online training that includes potential scenarios and examples for members. It is an ongoing process, and we will continue to put forward additional training and scenarios as new questions arise."

The Metropolitan Police Department will launch a new website Thursday devoted to addressing the public's questions about the new law.


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