DC Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Likely Coming Soon

The Peace Monument, Washington, DC (file)

The Peace Monument, Washington, DC (file)

WASHINGTON, DC — Faced with the prospect of having District of Columbia marijuana policy determined directly by voters through the initiative process, at least two members of the DC Council are considering introducing legislation that would decriminalize pot possession in the nation’s capital.

The Washington Post reported the Council members Marion Berry (D-Ward 8) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) are formulating a decriminalization bill, hoping to settle the matter before outside groups petition the issue onto the ballot.

Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) — who as chairman of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee would shepherd the legislation — are formulating a proposal to eliminate criminal penalties for those caught with small amounts of cannabis or subject offenders to fines.

“Absolutely, it’s time we look at decriminalization of marijuana in the District of Columbia,” said Wells, who is chairman of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee and who is running for mayor next year. “It’s time we enter the 21st century and stop criminalizing people . . . for what is not really a major crime.”

Wells and Barry aren’t the only council members who are thinking decrim. Anita Bonds (D-At Large) said she is also considering drafting a decriminalization bill.

And Council Member David Grosso (I-At Large) said he could get behind decreiminalization, but that he wanted to broaden the discussion to include legalization.

“The people on the streets dealing are the nonviolent drug offenders who are going to jail for dealing drugs,” said Grosso, who got busted for pot possession as a young man in Florida two decades ago. “I think that’s a serious problem.”

But council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) may prove an obstacle.

“I don’t think it’s the right time,” said Mendelson, citing congressional opposition that blocked the city from implementing a voter-approved medical marijuana program for more than a decade. “I don’t think decriminalization of marijuana will go over easily with Congress.”

If the council doesn’t act, District marijuana reform activists are ready to step up to the plate. They have already been engaged in discussions about a possible November 2014 initiative and whether it should be a decriminalization measure or go for the fence with a legalization measure.

If activists try to take the issue to the voters, they appear to be well-positioned. A Public Policy Polling survey last month showed three-quarters of DC residents supported decriminalization and nearly two-thirds (63%) supported legalization.