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D.C. Council Passes Pot Decriminalization Bill

By Brett Snider, Esq. on March 05, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The D.C. Council voted to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use on Tuesday, leaving the mayor to sign the bill into law.

If approved by Mayor Vincent Gray, the pot bill will have to weather a congressional review period before going into effect. But according to Washington's WRC-TV, Congress has "rarely used" its powers to veto D.C. laws.

But with legal pot possession on the line, the odds seem hardly relevant.

Status of Marijuana in D.C.

The bill approved by the D.C. Council on Tuesday would make the simple possession of small amounts of marijuana a civil fine or infraction. Like a traffic ticket, under the new bill, the punishment for possessing less than 1 ounce of marijuana for personal use would be a $25 fine.

This is in stark contrast to the current law, under which pot possessors can spend up to a year in jail and be fined up to $1,000 for personal possession of marijuana under an ounce. Sale and possession for sale of any amount are still illegal under both D.C. and federal law -- even if this bill becomes law.

Both Philadelphia and California have made similar decriminalization efforts in the last four years. In fact, the AP reports that 17 states have effected some form of marijuana decriminalization.

Congressional Review

The District of Columbia has the authority to pass laws to govern itself (granted by Congress) under the Home Rule Act of 1973. The D.C. Council and mayor can pass and enact laws much like a state legislature and governor, but U.S. Congress retains the power to veto.

If this pot decriminalization bill is signed by Mayor Gray, it must then be sent to Congress -- which would then have 60 days to veto the bill. This period is 60 Congressional days, which is often closer to three calendar months. In 2007, opponents of this waiting period discussed a Congressional bill to do away it, noting that Congress has only used its power to change D.C. laws three times out of 4,000, The Washington Post reported.

Meantime, the D.C. Cannabis Campaign has called on Mayor Gray to halt arrests for possession during the 60-day period in which Congress is set to consider the new law.

Those interested in the proposed law's impact on past, present, or future marijuana charges in Washington, D.C., will want to consult an experienced criminal defense attorney.

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