Loose Lips

Weakened Bill to Decriminalize Marijuana Passes First Vote


People in the District could soon only face a fine for possessing less than an ounce of marijuana, under legislation that the D.C. Council approved on first reading today. Anyone smoking pot would have to stay indoors or risk arrest, though, according to an amendment made to the bill before the vote.

The amendment, proposed by Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, removed a provision in the original bill proposed by Ward 6 Councilmember and mayoral hopeful Tommy Wells to replace the criminal penalty for smoking pot in public with a $25 fine. The current law allows for up to 180 days of incarceration and a $1,000 fine for a first offense, with penalties doubling for subsequent offenses. Mendelson's final version of the amendment kept the criminal penalty for smoking marijuana anywhere that isn't the smoker's private property. LL's waiting to hear back on how that would affect smoking in public from private property, like a porch, or smoking in a rental unit.

Mendelson's amendment passed on a voice vote, with Wells as only the only vote against it. The decriminalization bill then passed by an identical margin, opposed only by Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander.

Mendelson's amendment earned the support of Mayor Vince Gray and police chief Cathy Lanier. In a letter to councilmembers, Gray warned that, unamended, the bill could lead to the return of open-air drug markets.

"Those of us remember the days when open-air drug markets plagued our neighborhoods do not want to see them or the violence that all too often accompanies them return," Gray wrote.

The Council discussion detoured for a while into a debate over how Mendelson's amendment would affect other ways of consuming marijuana, like edibles. Mendelson claimed that police wouldn't be able to tell the difference between space cakes and regular food.

“A police officer across the street is not going to know that somebody is eating dope-laden brownies," Mendelson said.

Update, 5:40 p.m.: A spokeswoman for legalization-pushing Councilmember David Grosso says her boss would have voted against Mendelson's amendment, but was away from the dais at the time.

Correction: Due to a reporting error, this post originally misstated the proposed fine for possessing less than an ounce of marijuana. It is $25, not $100.

Marijuana photo by Shutterstock

  • AntiIgnorant

    How has prohibition worked?

    I cannot answer that question but I can list plenty of failure points:

    Failure (1) - Prohibition has NOT removed supply from the reach of children. Go visit a high school and ask which is easier to obtain alcohol or pot. The answer is pot due to non-regulation.

    Failure (2) - Prohibition has NOT made the general public safer. Quite the contrary. Demand increases every year due to the amount of people who prefer cannabis to pharmaceutical drugs and alcohol. Who is meeting this demand? The black market. Thus, increasing crime every year.

    Failure (3) - Prohibition has spent billions and billions of taxpayer dollars to arrest and lock up citizens for simple possession. Citizens that are guilty of nothing more than preferring cannabis to alcohol and pharmaceutical drugs. Many of these citizens now have criminal records preventing them from obtaining gainful employment.

    Failure (4) - Prohibition has suppressed and delayed medical research of cannabis. This plant has been shown to have a myriad of medical benefits which include treatments for cancer, PTSD, seizures, HIV, depression and many others.

    The majority of the country has been shown in multiple polls to support cannabis legalization for both medical and recreational use. Prohibitionists arguments have not evolved with the times. They are the same as they were decades ago and have never been based on sound science. Now is the time to stop living the lies of our fathers and right this wrong.

  • Corky

    Did the Council just pass the bill or puff, puff, pass the bill?


    Mendelson is piss poor council chairman!!

    He has no courage on anything and tips around anything that would require him to grab his "balls"! The whole country is moving forward with marijuana legalization but the "scared" leaders in DC are playing coy.......You cannot get statehood by playing "soft" and acting timid!!

    Real LEADERS for DC ASAP!!

  • Typical DC BS

    Yes, lets keep spreading the lie that folks are being sent to prison for simple marijuana possession. Please. if you're walking around with an ounce or more of weed, you're NOT just taking a stroll to get high. DC's justice system doesn't send folks to jail for simple possession, nor does the federal system. You need to be distributing (SELLING) to get arrested and do time.

    Smoke at HOME, not in the streets, corners or parks.

  • Buffalo Bill

    WCP, can you please clarify the next step in this becoming law? My understanding is that this faces another vote in 14 days, at which point - if approved - it goes in front of Gray. Is this correct?

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  • Art

    "Those of us remember the days when open-air drug markets plagued our neighborhoods do not want to see them or the violence that all too often accompanies them return," Gray wrote.

    How does that comment relate at all to decriminalizing the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana?

  • tiredofbunk

    And they all genuflect to "It's Not The Right Time" Mendo - all except Wells and Grasso conveniently not around,. Cigarette smoking in public can be controlled so can herb. It's a plant not a crime nor a cash cow. Full legalization and expungement of unjust sentences is where this is going so let's get there already. Get outtta the way Phil.