Marijuana Decriminalization Bill moves on to D.C. Council

WASHINGTON (WJLA) - This 31-year-old Southeast resident named Devon agreed to talk to us about his arrest for possession of marijuana. It happened just three weeks after his 18th birthday.

He says it affected the last 12 years of his life significantly. For instance:

“When they do background checks, that pops up on my record and they look at that.”

He also says the arrest was for less than a quarter of an ounce – and it forever changed his life.

Enter the Marijuana Decriminalization Bill of 2014 – an effort led by Councilman Tommy Wells – which took a major step forward on Wednesday and is now on its way to the full Council for consideration.

"The utitmate goal here is not to allow simple possession of marijuana to destroy someone's life," explains Ward 3 D.C. Councilmember, Mary Cheh.

The bill would reduce the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana from a criminal offense – which can include jail time and a $1,000 fine – to a civil infraction. This means violators will simply be ticketed with a fine of $25.

Wells says the goal is ultimately social equity and fairness. A report provided by the Council’s Public Safety Committee indicates that D.C. has the highest number of marijuana arrests than any other state, and that 90-percent of those arrested are African-American.

The report goes on to point out that seven out of 10 marijuana arrests are in Wards 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 – home to nine out of 10 black city residents.

"It happens in Georgetown as much as it happens in Anacostia, but you are more likely to be arrested in Anacostia than you are in Georgetown," says Weels.

While the Council appears poised to ultimately pass the legislation, some argue that it still needs to be tweaked.

Opponents worry that it would create open-air drug markets. We even found a woman in Southeast who is moving out because of the drug problem. She doesn’t want dealers outside of her house.