Washington – The District of Columbia stepped closer to decriminalizing marijuana on Wednesday, January 15, when a city council panel approved a measure that would make smoking a joint in the U.S. capital a violation comparable to a parking ticket.
Approved unanimously by the city council’s public safety committee, the bill reduces penalties for possessing less than an ounce (28 grams) of marijuana to a fine as little as $25.
Eight times more blacks than non-blacks in Washington are arrested for pot possession, and committee Chairman Tommy Wells said the measure’s goal was fairness and reducing law enforcement costs.
If the full council passes the measure, Washington would join 15 U.S. states and a handful of cities that have decriminalized marijuana use. Wells said the bill could become law before April.
The proposal eliminates criminal penalties for possession and the $25 fine is less than most city parking tickets. People smoking in public would be fined $100, and minors would also have a letter sent to their parents.
Passage is likely since nine of 13 council members and Mayor Vincent Gray support the measure. Possession of any amount of marijuana in Washington is currently a misdemeanor carrying up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
A Washington Post poll released on Wednesday showed that 63 percent of city residents favored legalizing marijuana, up from almost half in 2010.
A group of District activists is also seeking to put an initiative on the November ballot that would legalize possession of small amounts of pot for personal use.
The Washington measure comes after two states, Colorado and Washington, have legalized marijuana. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo also came out this month in favor of allowing the limited use of medical marijuana.