District voters may have an opportunity in April to put their mark on the nationwide debate about whether to decriminalize marijuana.

Paul Zukerberg, an Adams Morgan attorney who specializes in defending marijuana possession cases, picked up petitions Tuesday to compete in the April 23 special election for an at-large seat on the D.C. Council.

In an interview, Zukerberg said he’s running for the council on a platform of decriminalizing marijuana in the District.

“We are behind New York. We are behind Chicago. We are locking up young people and giving them records for a joint or roach of marijuana,” said Zukerberg, who said he has defended more than 1,000 marijuana cases during his 25-year legal career. “These kids can’t get jobs. They can’t get into school. They are on probation.”

If elected, Zukerberg would join council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) in advocating for the decriminalization of marijuana. But Zukerberg, 55, said he will also campaign on improving education, a more sustainable transportation network and ethics reform.

Zukerberg, a Democrat, moved to the District in 1981 to attend American University. After getting his law degree, Zukerberg began representing clients arrested for marijuana possession, eventually creating the Web site www.dcmarijuanalaw.com to advertise his business.

Before his name can appear on the ballot, Zukerberg must gather 3,000 signatures from registered voters.

But Zukerberg expressed confidence that he can rally support from like-minded District residents who support decriminalizing drugs. He noted that voters in both Colorado and Washington voted last month to decriminalize marijuana.

“There is a tsunami coming and it’s coming from the west,” Zukerberg said. “Why should D.C. be last on social legislation? Why should we be last on jobs? Why should we be last on education?”

He added, “If people want to go with the 12 (council members) they have up there, then stick with them. But change is a wonderful thing.”

In an interview this month, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) said “there is a good argument for decriminalizing a drug that is widely used and that results in a lot of arrest records and not having an effect on violent crime.”

But Mendelson immediately added that he’s not “prepared to go there” because he worried that any attempt to decriminalize drugs in the District would prompt a stern response from Congress.

“I don’t think this is the time for the District to be discussing that,” he said.

Even if Zukerberg is unsuccessful, his entry into the race could force the other contenders, including incumbent Anita Bonds (D), to express their views on marijuana legalization.

During this year’s fall campaign, Independent David Grosso told The Washington Post that he would also support decriminalizing marijuana if the matter came up for a vote. Grosso, who unseated Michael A. Brown (I), will be sworn in next month.