D.C. mayor backs decriminalizing marijuana, replacing criminal charges with civil fines


WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY, 24: Barrett Nnoka (a partner with Medicinal Marijuana Company of America) holds a hat with the Logo for the company on it. He's at the back entrance to the building on New York Ave. NE where they plan to set up shop for their company.(Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post) (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) on Wednesday offered his first unequivocal support for decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, adding momentum to a legislative proposal that has the support of a supermajority on the D.C. Council and could make the District one of the nation’s most lenient jurisdictions on marijuana possession.

Under a measure proposed by council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), possession of less than an ounce of marijuana in the District would no longer be punishable by six months in jail and a penalty of $1,000.

Instead, those caught with amounts of the drug deemed for personal use would risk only a civil charge and a ticket of $100 — the equivalent of parking in a no-parking area in the District at rush hour.

Wells, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for mayor, and civil liberties groups have urged passage of the measure. They say the District’s marijuana laws have disproportionately affected African Americans and have saddled some residents with criminal records, making it hard for them to find gainful employment.

Wells and council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) have scheduled a two-part hearing on the bill, beginning Wednesday night in Southeast Washington and continuing Thursday at the John A. Wilson Building.

Gray said that his surrogates would testify Thursday in favor of decriminalizing marijuana.

“I support decriminalization. Legalization is another issue. I’m not there on that issue, yet,” the mayor said, alluding to laws such as those in Colorado and Washington state.

This past summer, D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier urged a “robust discussion” of the legislation, calling it a significant issue and saying she has concerns about the risks marijuana poses for children, as well as the potential conflict with federal law.

Staff members in Gray’s and Wells’s offices said neither Lanier nor anyone else from the police department was scheduled to testify Thursday.

Aaron Davis covers D.C. government and politics for The Post and wants to hear your story about how D.C. works — or how it doesn’t.
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