D.C. Council marijuana decriminalization public hearings begin today

(WJLA) - As the leaders of the District of Columbia prepare to once again take up the issue of marijuana decriminalization, they seem to have a powerful ally - Mayor Vincent Gray.

Speaking in advance of a public hearing scheduled for Wednesday night on possibly loosening criminal penalties for the possession of small amounts of pot, Mayor Gray said that he supports the idea.

"I support decriminalization; legalization is another issue," Gray said. "I'm not there on that issue yet.

"But you'll hear when we do testify on this that we'll support decriminalization."

Proponents of the legislation say black D.C. residents make up a disproportionate percentage of the number of people arrested for marijuana possession in the city.

A number of D.C.'s lawmakers have voiced their support in the past for dropping criminal pot penalties, including Councilmen Tommy Wells and David Grosso.

Under a plan introduced in May, Wells is pitching that the penalty for possessing small amounts of marijuana in the District be reduced a $100 fine.

Grosso's plan would be to allow the city's Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration to issue licenses to businesses who want to legally sell marijuana and tax it at a rate of 15 percent.

Wells, who chairs the council's public safety committee, and Councilmember Marion Barry are organizing Wednesday's hearing at the Anacostia Neighborhood Library.

The hearing will continue Thursday at the John A. Wilson Building.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.