D.C. marijuana legislation: Decriminalization passes ten to one

(WJLA) - Legislation to decriminalize marijuana in D.C. passed on Tuesday with a final vote of ten to one.

"This is a victory for social justice and a major step for the nation's capital," said Councilmember Tommy Wells in a statement. "This bill is a tremendous stride to end the disproportionate impact of marijuana arrests that keep our residents from jobs, higher education and housing opportunities."

If you ask D.C. residents about decriminalizing marijuana, you get a lot of opinions like this:

"Drug laws are putting too many people in jail. We're using too many police resources in marijuana," says Brandon Farris.

And Wells agrees:

"[I am] certain everybody in America has had some family member, friend or themselves smoke pot -- or get in trouble for it."

The new law would not legalize but decriminalize the drug, so there will be a $25 fine for possession of an ounce or less – though police will still confiscate the weed and still make arrests for smoking in public or selling.

Though Wells says the law will have the biggest impact on African-Americans in D.C., who are nine out of ten arrests relating to pot, the only council member to vote against it, Yvette Alexander, says it will have little effect in her predominantly black Ward 7.

"Guys smoking a joint are concerned they're still going to jail with this legislation," she declared, calling the law unfair.

"So if you were to sell me an ounce of marijuana, you would go to jail and I would get a $25 ticket for having it in my possession. Does that make sense?"

Sense or not, the Council still passed the law, which D.C. Mayor Gray has made known that he will sign.

The bill will establish a maximum penalty for smoking marijuana in public, protect individuals from being subject to detainment, and drop the possession of an ounce or less from a criminal offense down to a civil offense.

A copy of the bill is available here.