Up In Smoke – Marijuana Possession Now a Civil Fine in D.C.

At midnight, the District of Columbia ordinance reducing marijuana possession to a $25.00 fine went into effect.  The legislation amended the possession or transfer of up to one ounce of marijuana from a criminal misdemeanor to a civil violation.

The public consumption of marijuana remains a criminal violation, however.  Furthermore, federal law enforcement agencies (U.S. Park Police, Secret Service, etc.) may still arrest someone for possession under the federal drug statute.  However, D.C. police have historically made the majority of marijuana possession arrests.  The D.C. police will abide by the D.C. ordinance and issue a civil fine only.  In an effort to clear up confusion, the D.C. Police Department has prepared wallet sized cards laying out the facts of the new law, and has also posted information on their website.

The District’s $25.00 fine for possession is similar to existing decriminalization laws in California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont.  Three states – Alaska, Colorado, and Washington – impose no civil or criminal penalty for the private possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Advocates of the legalization of marijuana have submitted a petition to have the residents vote on the issue in November.  The District’s Board of Elections will meet in August to certify the issue to the ballot.  However, voter initiatives are not binding, and have been overturned by the D.C. Council in the past, or thwarted by Congress.

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