It would be something like getting a speeding ticket, except the stakes would be a little bit higher.
If you were an adult who got caught with an ounce or less of marijuana in the District, you would be given a citation instead of being arrested. You could pay a fine of up to $100 instead of going to court, and the record of your citation would not appear as a record of arrest.
That kind of "overhaul" of the current D.C. drug law is part of a package of narcotics law changes included in a bill introducethe D.C. City Council.
Council member David A. Clarke (D-Ward 1), who is a major sponsor of the legislation, emphasized that the bill would not really legalize marijuana. Penalties would be retained, Clarke said, and there would be no change in the treatment of juvenile violators. But in the case of adults possessing a small amount of grass for personal use, "the encouragement will be to pay a fine rather than go to court," Clarke said.
The bill goes further than an unsuccessful 1975 effort that would have applied only to marijuana, which went down to a 7-to-6 City Council vote.
The new measure would classify all potentially dangerous drugs into five categories, based on effect, potential for medicinal use and potential for abuse.Persons whose work includes handling such drugs would have to register with the city.
A hierarchy of potential violations and penalties would be established under the legislation with penalties ranging up to 10 years in jail, a $25,000 fine or both for such things as heroin trafficking.
The problem with the present D.C. drug law, Clarke said last week, is that it is too monolithic. "Our current law provides the same maximum penalty for one who sells a pound of heroin to a child as it does for unauthorized possession of a prescription pill."
The present city law has a penalty of up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $1,000 or both for a marijuana conviction. Under the proposed law, Clarke said, stronger penalties could be imposed after six citations. At that point, the violator would be subject to a possible fine of $5,000, a year in jail or both.
Sponsors of the legislation in addition to Clarke are John A. Wilson (D-ward 2), Polly Shackleton (D-ward 3), Arrington Dixon (D-ward 4), Wilhelmina Rolark (D-ward 8) and at-large Democrats Marion Barry and Julius Hobson.
Council Member Douglas E. Moore (D-at large) is not a co-sponsor of the legislation. "It's another example of scatter brain liberalism," Moore said, criticizing Clarke's efforts. "Rather than dealing with a referendum to see if we can pick our own judges, he's running around pushing marijuana."