Loose Lips

The Practical Guide to D.C. Marijuana Decriminalization

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Ward 6 councilmember Tommy Wells' bill decriminalizing possession of marijuana possession passed the D.C. Council this afternoon on a 10-1-1 vote. Next it's headed to Mayor Vince Gray, who's expected to sign it.

On the macro level, Wells says this should reduce the damage of racially disparate enforcement of the city's marijuana laws. On the micro level, though, getting stoned is now a little more complicated. Read on:

So marijuana is legal now? 

Nope. While the criminal penalty for possessing small amounts of marijuana has been replaced with a fine, the bill doesn't bring Colorado-style legalization to the District. (But stay tuned!)

How much can I posses and only risk a fine?

Under the legislation, anyone carrying an ounce or less of marijuana will receive the $25 penalty. 

Will they take my dimebag?

Whether or not it's less than an ounce, police will take your marijuana if it's "visible," according to the bill.

What about my vaporizer?

If it's "visible," that's gone, too.

Can I finally smoke at the Meridian Hill drum circle?

Nope. While the original version of the bill would have made public blazing subject to a $100 fine, an amendment pushed by Council chairman Phil Mendelson kept public smoking as a criminal offense. According to the bill, anyone smoking on a street, alley, park, sidewalk, or park, or anyone in a vehicle on those places, risks arrest. Also off limits: "any place to which the public is invited." In the final bill, the maximum penalties for smoking marijuana in public are a $500 fine and a 60-day jail term.

Where can I smoke without being arrested? 

Since the bill forbids smoking in public, pot smokers are limited to their own property or property to which they're invited.

Does this apply on federal land, too?

It's unlikely. While the federal government has remained quiet on the bill, a Park Police spokeswoman tells the Post that the agency likely won't follow the District's bill.

What about my dealer?

Unluckily for the people actually distributing marijuana, selling the drug is still a crime in the District. That could change, though, if activists manage to put an initiative legalizing marijuana on the ballot in November.

When does the decriminalization bill go into effect?

First, Gray has to sign the bill. After that, because the bill affects criminal sentencing, it will have 60 days of congressional review, according to Wells spokesman Jack Pfeiffer. Once those 60 days are up, the bill will go into effect immediately.

Marijuana photo by Shutterstock

  • Corky

    It's official, the inmates have taken over the asylum. The right of people to be stupid and high ends at my right to be able to walk the streets or drive without getting run over by one of these doped up fools. This is just a BAD POLICY. And don't start with that medical marijuana nonsense! It's sick pretext to get access to an illegal drug without criminal consequence.

  • Typical DC BS

    Corky brings up some good points. Need to start defining what is & isn't allowable when it comes to marijuana. Driving buzzed up definitely shouldn't be allowed, but you need to clarify clearly what is considered "over the limit".

  • SEis4ME

    Corky, uhm...chances are that the doped up drivers you refer to will be the same drivers doped up drivers who didn't run you over before the law was passed.

    Typical, Corky brings up irrelevant points. Unlike alcohol, marijuana is STILL illegal. So there is no need to set a legal limit on its consumption.

  • Corky

    SEis4me--it is not irrelevant, except maybe to someone whose judgment is clouded by the fact that he is high on weed. I've already been nearly side swiped twice by idiots driving while blowing weed smoke out of the window. It is illegal and should stay that way. Did you know it was illegal to drive while drunk too? That's why we have established blood alcohol limits to set a benchmark for impairment. It's irresponsible to turn a blind eye to doped up drivers while decriminalizing pot. A lot of light poles, stops signs and mailboxes will be taken out next summer by these nuts. Hopefully, no people will be killed.

  • cminus

    @Corky, even with decriminalization marijuana is still illegal, so it follows that any detectable amount would qualify for a DUI. It's like how *any* measurable alcohol in your system will get you a ticket if you're under 21.

  • noodlez

    THIS IS A BILL FOR WHITEY SO THEY CAN GET AND KEEP THEIR FED GOV'T JOBS. IT SEEMS AS IF THIS BILL ONLY ADDRESSES POSSESSION WHILE THEY PICK UP THEIR PACKAGE FROM THE WEED STORE WITH THE BULLSHIT ASS SCRIPT THEY GOT FROM DOCTOR THRU THEIR HMO OR PPO.

    BLACK FOLK WANNA BE ABLE TO BLAZE UP A 'J' WHILE THEY ARE WALKING THE STREET INSTEAD OF CREATING CLOUDS IN THEIR HOMES, AROUND THEIR CHILDREN AND IN THEIR CARS. THIS REMINDS ME OF POCA LAW THAT FLOODED COURT SYSTEM AND DC COPS POCKETS WHO TRANSACTED ON SPOT BY TAKING $20'S FROM NEGOTIATIONS WITH THOSE THAT DIDN'T WANT TO DO PAPERWORK, TRANSPORT AND WASTE EVERYONE'S TIME WITH SIMPLE BUREAUCRACY.

    JUST LEGALIZE THE SHIT ALREADY!
    DAMN!!!

  • drez

    BLACK FOLK WANNA BE ABLE TO BLAZE UP A 'J' WHILE THEY ARE WALKING THE STREET INSTEAD OF CREATING CLOUDS IN THEIR HOMES, AROUND THEIR CHILDREN AND IN THEIR CARS.
    Dude... Why would anyone else- especially people who don't partake- want any of those things around thier homes, children, or cars?
    I don't really cre whether people get high. It's not dangerous, just a waste of their time that I don't want my kids taught.

  • SEis4ME

    This is a bill for people who want to smoke in their homes (as they should) and not face the threat of prosecution. Alcohol is legal but you can't drink in oublic.

    They do not need to legalize public consumption of marijuana.

  • sam

    How does the bill affect people who rent? The bill prohibits users from smoking anywhere other than their own private property (or private property to which they're invited). Does that mean that a user who smokes in his or her own apartment is still committing a criminal offense?

    What about the measure's impact on landlord-tenant law more generally? For instance, do provisions allowing for eviction for maintenance of a "drug haven" still apply if all a tenant has is an ounce of marijuana? Or could a landlord still evict a tenant for possessing any amount of marijuana, since it's still a federal offense?

  • drez

    We agree on this, SEis4E

  • sam

    There are public places (bars, clubs, restaurants) and events (tailgate parties and the like) where drinking alcohol is either legal or tolerated. Nothing similar exists for marijuana.

    All things being equal, yes, it would make sense to prohibit public marijuana smoking the same way we do alcohol. But all things are not equal, and treating them as if they are makes little sense. The $100 fine that was originally to serve as the penalty for public smoking was reasonable. $500 and possible jail time is not.

  • http://CITYPAPER Tony

    Smoking marijuana will not help black people defeat the Devil.

  • GoldCoastKid

    Halleluiah!!!!!
    I never thought I would see the day!!
    Thank you Tommy Wells for finally taking a stand for something good and meaningful.

    Prohibition is nearly over folks! Its nearly over.

  • GoldCoastKid

    and another thing...
    Why does the WCP keep publishing comments from Noodlez and Drez.. these two guys represent the worst that black folks have to offer. Each and every comment of theirs has racist undertones where they're playing the victim.
    Aren't we all tired of their BS?
    There's other black folks in DC that are much more progressive and open minded. We're not all noodle heads.

  • noodlez

    @GOLD COAST-YOU TARDY AS SHIT SON. YOUR MOMMA BEEN ONE SINCE U WAS A TICKLE IN MY SACK. SHIT FOR BRAINS DID YOU READ THE BILL AND/OR THE ARTICLE?? YOU CAN STILL GET LOCKED UP FOR POSSESSION DEPENDING ON THE WEIGHT.

    YOU CAN ONLY SMOKE FREELY ON YOUR PROPERTY WHICH MEANS THE POLICE CAN NOT ENTER BECAUSE THEY SMELL WEED THEY COULD STILL GET A WARRANT AND COME BACK IF THEY BELIEVE IT IS A STASH HOUSE. YOU WANDERING OVER OFF OF NORTH PORTAL TO SMOKE BECAUSE YOU MOM WONT LET YOU SMOKE IN HER BASEMENT IS STILL ILLEGAL. STEP INTO FEDERAL PROPERTY AND IT IS STILL ILLEGAL TO POSSESS AND/OR SMOKE. NOTHING IS NEARLY OVER AND TOMMY WELLS AINT DO SHIT.

    YO DREZ- WE'VE BEEN DOWN THIS ROAD BEFORE. EDUCATION HOLMES. EDUCATION. SLIM TEACH THEM THE RIGHTS AND THE WRONGS THEN WHEN THEY GET OLDER THEY WOULD BE ABLE TO MAKE THEIR OWN DECISION. FOLK SMOKE CIGARETTES WALKING THE STREET??? ALL TYPES OF DRUNKS WANDER THE STREETS EVERYDAY?? ARE YOU CONCERNED ABOUT YOUR CHILDREN BEING A CIGARETTE SMOKING ALCOHOLIC?

    BURNING SOME TREES PROVIDE MEDICAL RELIEF FOR SOME FOLK. IM OK WIT IT.

  • Pachamama

    Let's all grow up and reject the notion that marijuana is somehow worse than tobacco and alcohol, both of which are responsible to millions of deaths in this country.

    In fact, marijuana, used in moderation, is harmless, and has been used for many centuries for its healthful qualities. So why is it illegal in most of the US? Because it cuts into the profits of the corporations that control the alcoholic beverage industry, which lobbies (pays) our legislators to trample such competitors.

    In DC, medical use of marijuana is legal, but is only approved for some health conditions and must be purchased at a licensed dispensary. In fact, most doctors are afraid to prescribe it, lest they be harassed by the bureaucracy.

    All the hoopla over this traditional herb is absurd.

  • SEis4ME

    Sam, it doesn't seem that difficult to deal with. As it is, landlords can prevent tenants from owning a dog. I can't imagine them not being able to maintain the same (if any) stance against marijuana. If you don't own it, you abide by the owner's rules. It's not criminal but may be grounds for eviction.

    BTW, you currently can't smoke anything in restaurants, bars, clubs.

  • Pachamama

    So...where do I get some?

  • Corky

    pachamama-MJ is not harmless. Whatever the politics are of why it is illegal, it is not a safe, innocuous drug. You can't even get a job at Homedepot if you test positive for MJ use. They've already done the math and know that weed heeads make for bad employees (always late and forgetful) and are a safety hazard in a warehouse setting--causing law suits and increased worker's comp costs. I suspect you wouldn't want to be on the highway with an 18 wheeler being driven by a pot head, where even a half secod's delay in reaction time can make the difference between life and death. Outside of the workplace, anyone working in an ER can tell you that they've seen patients who've overdosed or had bad trips and panic attacks on MJ. People who say no one has ever overdosed on MJ are either lying, high or stupid.

  • Bob

    "What does it mean for us?"

    Not much, because Congress will veto this pretty quickly. Even Gov. Jerry Brown in California wants that state to wait to see how things go in Colo. and Washington state before any pot liberalization there.

    Now, Mayor Gray, how about picking up the trash that's piling up around the city?!

  • Voice of Reason

    Corky - those are poor observations and associations. Maybe some men with beards are bad workers. Should we ban beards for that reason? What about the bad workers without beards? What about the good workers with beards?

    An employer can ban the use of it while on the clock - just like alcohol. You typically can't be drunk at work.

    Bottom line - your use of logic and facts are wrong at best.

  • noodlez

    YO CORK YOU NEED TO KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SATIVA AND INDICA.

    FOLK FUNCTION ON THE REGULAR OFF SATIVA. ITS PROPERTIES ALLOW YOU TO FUNCTION AT A HIGH LEVEL (NO PUN INTENDED)WITHOUT THE LETHARGY.

    YOU ARE SPEAKING OF INDICA WHICH PUT FOLK IN A TYPICAL TED AND BILL STONER STATE OF MIND. FROM YOUR COMMENT ONE CAN GLEAN YOUR EXPERIENCES AS AN INDICAN!

    I BELIEVE YOU ARE EMBELLISHING THE WHOLE EMERGENCY ROOM SCENE.

  • GoldCoastKid

    @ Noodlez and Drez.
    I apologize for posting rudeness towards both of you.
    For the past couple of years I've watched as we've been at odds on a number of issues (mostly our elected officials).
    But that doesn't mean that its right to take pot shots at you guys.
    I know that both of you mean well. Its just that sometimes you two take a very hard line and the underlying issues always seem to be race related. And in my opinion, as a black native Washingtonian, it gives the impression that all of us feel the same way as you two. And that's not the case.
    I know you guys mean well.

  • HUAlum71

    Too late GoldCoastKid.
    But don't worry, neither noodlez nor drez is likely to catch you outside yo crib and knock you upside da head.
    Besides apology aside, that li'l punk ass move you just busted proves you ain't no thorough niggah.

    Pachamama: I'm feelin' ya. LOL

  • Kes

    Wow, Corky, have you ever even spoken to someone who would admit to smoking pot around you? Cause you have clearly never smoked any in your life. You describe some kind of horror drug that makes people useless and crazy and that people are constantly abusing while driving. In my lifelong experience with marijuana and those who smoke it, in make different cultures and contexts, next to none of that is true.

    Yes, some studies have indicated that marijuana can exacerbate mental health issues to some degree, specifically it seems to increase the chances of schizophrenia in those who begin to smoke heavily while young. However, almost all reports of people going "crazy" after smoking pot elide certain key facts, like the pot in question was laced with some other narcotic, and/or the person in question was using another narcotic in addition to pot. And unlike a certain popular and legal fermented beverage, the number of deaths medically attributable to marijuana are statistically non-existent (and in my opinion, actually non-existent as well.)

    I know lots of happy, functional, fully-employed people who smoke regularly, either at parties and gatherings, or in their own homes after work, or both. And unlike, again, alcohol users, pot users tend to be relaxed and easygoing while stoned, rather than excitable, angry, or violent. I'd much rather everyone who currently "unwinds" with a whiskey or six would switch to pot.

  • drez

    Goldcoast
    We agree Bowser is the best choice. Wherever the rest of all that you said came from, there will be time to discuss it later.

  • drez

    I just don't see the benefit to my family in having my kids exposed to drugs. Sure, I as a parent can teach them and set an example. But the world around them will do the same, and I just want what is best for them, and want to give that to them with as little outside interference as possible.
    That's my job, and my love.

  • BAH

    I didn't see this addressed in the article or the comments, but can I now grow this in my home, and if so how many plants. Would having like 2 plants still be punishable by a $25 fine? If so, we should expect to see some cool new strains out of DC. Interesting times.

  • sam

    @BAH, no, but there's currently a push for a ballot initiative this November that would allow you to grow up to three plants in your home (see: http://dcmj.org/).

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